Stitt Defies Highway Patrol, ODOT, CDC Warnings Against Travel, Vacations In New Mexico
On Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency for all 77 of Oklahoma's counties, warning of dangerous conditions from an approaching severe winter storm. He activated the National Guard, posted a video message warning of "dangerous cold," and in a news release asked Oklahomans to "please heed the recommendation of public safety and transportation officials."
Then he and his family left the state for the ski slopes of New Mexico.
As first reported by The Lost Ogle and confirmed by a spokesperson, the governor spent the weekend out of state.
“Like many Oklahomans, Governor Stitt worked remotely this weekend while on a previously planned trip to New Mexico with his family and has since returned safely to Oklahoma," said Stitt spokesperson Carly Atchison in a Monday statement. The experts at ODEMHS (Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security), ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) and OHP (Oklahoma Highway Patrol), as well as other state and local agencies, are doing an incredible job keeping Oklahomans safe and informed, thanks in large part to the all-virtual State Emergency Operations Center, and Governor Stitt will continue to fully support their efforts.”
Stitt's holiday flew in the face of warnings issued by each of those agencies last week concerning the harsh winter weather that killed a Tulsa man on Thursday.
"Stay warm, stay safe, & stay off the roads!" ODEMHS tweeted Friday shortly after the emergency declaration.
“The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is encouraging all residents to stay home during the upcoming winter weather event,” said Colonel Brent Sugg, Chief of the Highway Patrol, in a press release issued by the governor's office. “While we will be prepared to rescue stranded motorists, those rescues are dangerous, not only for the motoring public but our troopers and other first responders as well. Staying at home ensures your safety and the safety of others.”
Also in the governor's news release, Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation and ODOT Executive Director Tim Gatz said, "“We want to thank those motorists who heeded the call this past week to delay travel during the height of the ice storm, but the need to stay off highways and interstates will be even greater this weekend. Even once we clear a highway, it could become impassable within an hour or less, depending on conditions. We implore Oklahomans to plan ahead and stay off roadways once the storm starts."
The governor's nonessential travel to another state also flouts COVID-19 recommendations from the CDC ("Cases are Extremely High. Avoid Travel") and his own state health department ("Public health officials recommend you stay home as much as possible, especially if your trip is not essential").
The state of New Mexico's COVID-19 guidance tells visitors they are "strongly advised to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days and to seek out a COVID-19 test upon their arrival in or return to New Mexico." Stitt did not self-quarantine, appearing in public many times in the 14 days preceding his trip. It is unclear if he sought out a test in New Mexico.