Oklahoma, Neighboring States May Worsen Each Others' Outbreaks: Health Researchers

Apr 27, 2020

Oklahoma has already begun reopening following a plan by Governor Kevin Stitt, but a team of health researchers estimate that the state is still over 50 days away from the earliest date when it would be safe to ease restrictions intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, whose research is regularly cited by the White House's COVID-19 task force, used a model to estimate that Oklahoma should not begin easing restrictions June 17th at the earliest. They said their model takes into account a variety of factors, including states' testing and contact tracing capacities.

Dr. Christopher Murray, the institute's director, said that reopening too soon may be harmful not only to the states that prematurely open, but also neighboring states. 

"A last comment on the estimation of those dates where we think it's unwise to relax before those dates," Murray said in a press briefing, "is the issue around reimportation of cases from other states."

"That's also a factor that will need to go into decisions by states," Murray said. "If adjacent states still have many more cases than they do, then the risk of reimportation from those states is high."

The IHME model is updated to change the "safe" reopen estimate dates based on new policies and data. In its most recent update, from April 22nd, the estimated dates of safe easing of restrictions for the states bordering Oklahoma are as follows: New Mexico, May 24th; Colorado, May 26th; Texas, June 8th; Missouri, June 10th; Kansas, June 21st; and Arkansas, June 22nd.

Oklahoma began the phased reopening plan proposed by Governor Stitt last week, despite the mayors of Oklahoma's three largest cities expressing concern and the head of the Oklahoma State Medical Association saying it's too soon to consider reopening and that the state does not meet federal criteria for reopening. Stitt defended his plan on Fox News Sunday, dismissing what he called "Monday morning quarterbacks."