With the start of the new legislative session less than two weeks away and COVID-19 trends still troubling, the state Capitol could be the site of a prolonged "superspreader" event, according to one public health figure.
"Well, it depends on how the legislators behave, right?" said Dr. Jean Hausheer, leader of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition's COVID-19 Task Force, at a virtual press conference Tuesday.
"So if they wash their hands, if they physically distance, if they wear a mask that covers their nose and if they get vaccinated, then we are rocking and good to go," Hausheer said. "So that's how that works."
"There should be rules in place, or expectations, because we care about all other human beings, right?" Hausheer said. "And we want everyone to do well in the legislative session and not be sick."
Oklahoma has had the highest rate of COVID-19 test positivity in the nation for weeks, according to data released by the federal government, but at an organizational day at the Capitol earlier this month, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted down a rule proposal from Democrats that would have required masks in the chamber. A number of lawmakers went without masks.
"By not doing what the governor’s asking Oklahomans to do, to not do what medical experts are asking Oklahomans to do, we are setting a terrible example for the state of Oklahoma today at a time when our state is suffering more than ever from this pandemic," House Minority Leader Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said at the time, referring to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt's executive order requiring masks in state buildings (not including the Capitol).
In November, at least two House Republicans tested positive for the virus after an in-person swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol where many in attendance went maskless. House Democrats expressed outrage that they learned they were potentially exposed from news reports, rather than from House Republican leadership.