Oklahoma House Democrats Call for New State COVID-19 Task Force

Aug 27, 2020

Credit Tom Holland-Wikimedia

Oklahoma House Democrats on Thursday called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to set up a new state COVID task force.

The minority caucus wants a bipartisan group led by public health experts that regularly briefs the public, including on recommendations it makes to the governor.

An existing governor’s task force that has met since March does not appear to meet those criteria.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said not releasing reports by the White House coronavirus task force even as they recommended more local officials implement stringent measures to slow the spread of the disease was not the governor’s only misstep.

"We’ve created a color-coded COVID alert system that is less effective than the one used by the CDC. We have not reported positive rapid-antigen test with daily  COVID-19 numbers as has been recommended by many public health experts. We haven’t been identifying the date of COVID deaths to help paint a better picture of how the pandemic is affecting Oklahoma," Virgin said.

Virgin said the worst thing a public official can do is lose the trust of their constituents.

"Unfortunately, by hiding information from citizens and mischaracterizing recommendations from the White House, the governor has shown an unwillingness to be forthright and transparent about this pandemic, and that has resulted in the public feeling mislead about our state’s current situation and what actions they should be taking to mitigate risks," Virgin said.

In a statement, the governor’s office said the state is a national leader in data transparency. The state has an "A+" grade from a national tracking project for its COVID data quality.

The governor’s office also labeled House Democrats’ call for a new task force an attempt to politicize the pandemic. They described the caucus’ June call for a statewide COVID awareness program the same way. A similar color-coded alert system was implemented two weeks later.

Governor’s spokesman Charlie Hannema added the state health department provides specific guidance for local officials, referring to an advisory that makes several recommendations but issues no mandates.

The White House coronavirus task force has repeatedly recommended Oklahoma implement a statewide mask requirement, among other measures.