Gov. Kevin Stitt has been nothing if not consistent throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: a statewide mask mandate is not on the table for Oklahoma.
"Mandating something statewide is something that we just don't believe in, or I personally don't believe in," Stitt said Tuesday at a press conference in Stillwater.
In recent weeks, Stitt and his cabinet have begun more frequently acknowledging that mask mandates have been effective when implemented by local governments, but that it should be a decision made on the community level.
"The evidence suggests that wearing masks works," said Kevin Corbett, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, at the Tuesday press conference.
"Cities in Oklahoma like Altus and Ada who, when the alert system map was released in July showed them in orange, now they are in yellow," Corbett said of two cities with mask mandates. "They took an active approach to wearing masks and saw their number of cases decrease. These cities have a strong recognition that wearing a mask not only protects them as an individual, but, more importantly, is for the benefit of others."
Interim Commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health Col. Lance Frye also spoke at the Tuesday press conference, acknowledging that while the White House coronavirus task force overseen by Dr. Deborah Birx has repeatedly urged the state to implement a statewide mandate, he said Birx had not made such a recommendation during her meeting with Frye, Stitt, and others in Tulsa last month.
"She was very understanding and reasonable," Frye said, adding that Birx said it would be unwise to require masks in counties with lower rates of spread. (The meeting was closed to press and no recording or transcript has been provided.)
"We want to encourage masks, but to force people to do it in certain situations is not reasonable all the time," Frye said.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has said on numerous occasions that he and Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart support a statewide mask mandate. Bynum has expressed frustration that other cities in the Tulsa metro have declined to mandate masks the way Tulsa did, suggesting their city councils lack the "courage" to do so.