Gov. Kevin Stitt will begin lifting restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma this week.
Stitt said Wednesday new cases and hospitalizations are declining enough to start a phased reopening that follows federal guidelines. Businesses like salons and pet groomers may reopen Friday by appointment only if the cities they’re in have not adopted more stringent measures than the state.
Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and churches can welcome patrons back May 1. All businesses must allow clients to practice physical distancing and sanitize areas more frequently.
"Let me be clear. We need to continue to practice social distancing and keep doing our part, wear a mask if you’re in public. We will continue to watch the data every day, and we will pull back if we see our cases spike or our hospitalizations increase," Stitt said.
If numbers of new cases and hospitalizations fall for 14 days after May 1, Oklahoma will move to the next stage of reopening. That would allow bars to reopen with reduced capacities, events like funerals to have more than 10 people in attendance and nonessential travel to resume.
Stitt's announcement concerned some state officials.
"The governor’s decision to reopen Oklahoma businesses early comes from a place of fear, and it is understandable for him to be worried about the long-term economic effects of this pandemic. However, in this time of uncertainty, it is crucial not to make decisions hastily and out of fear but out of fact," House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said in a statement.
Several Oklahoma mayors have enacted stricter limits in their cities than Stitt has for the state and had indicated they would extend them if supported by local data.
"We think that most of the mayors will line up with our orders on May 1, and we’ll cross that bridge when it — on May 1 if we’re seeing some more restrictions," Stitt said.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum responded in a Facebook post.
"I appreciate Governor Stitt announcing his plan for Oklahoma today. I am working with both the Tulsa Health Department and the State Department of Health to assess the latest trend data that would indicate when we can safely begin such a process in Tulsa," Bynum wrote, adding he would share his thoughts on Tulsa's reopening in a Friday briefing.