Speaking alongside his COVID-19 task force outside INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center Portland in Oklahoma City, Governor Kevin Stitt presented more details on how the state will begin its attempt to reopen its economy.
"I know how badly many of you want to get back to normal, get back to a normal way of life," Stitt said.
"Our cases are trending down and our curve is flattening," Stitt said. "That is great news." But Stitt was also careful to add that there is still a chance that things could take a turn.
"We are still preparing for a surge," Stitt said, explaining that the INTEGRIS facility was selected because it will join the Oklahoma State University Medical Center in Tulsa as a "surge facility" to deal with any potential spike in COVID patients.
"We currently have 325 people in the hospital across the state of Oklahoma," Stitt said. "That number peaked at 560 back on March 30th. For the last two and a half weeks, we have continued to trend down."
The governor said he spoke via telephone with President Trump on Thursday, during which the leaders discussed how the White House's guideline to get the country "safely reopened" center on Oklahoma's capacity for testing and contact tracing, or mapping the spread of the virus from person to person through the state.
"I'm here to tell you we have the testing capacity in the state to test anyone with symptoms," said Stitt, saying that the state would open two new testing centers in Tulsa on Monday, at the OSU Medical Center and at the University of Oklahoma - Tulsa. Stitt said the centers would be open to anyone with symptoms or who have been exposed to a confirmed positive case, and that neither health insurance coverage nor a doctor's referral will be required.
Stitt said his office is taking guidance on when to reopen from churches and retail and restaurant associations.
"I am committed to protecting our most vulnerable population," Stitt said, "but I'm also committed to protecting the hard-working Oklahomans who are struggling right now to pay their bills and they're ready to get back to work."
Stitt defended his decision to lift restrictions against elective surgery effective April 24th, despite the Oklahoma Hospital Association's statement opposing the move, saying it will put caretakers and patients at risk.
"We feel really good about it," Stitt said. "Obviously we can back up and change our minds if any of those things change, but right now we're doing this. It's the right time."
Stitt also said he's in talks with church leaders across Oklahoma to decide when would be best to lift guidelines against meeting for in-person services.
"It's outside of the state's purview to shut down churches," Stitt said. "My hope would be on the May 3rd Sunday to allow people to start easing back into this, but there's a lot of things to think about."
"I can't give you an exact timeline," Stitt said, "but we will start stepping back into a more normal way of life sometime in the month of May, early May hopefully."
As of Friday, April 17th, the Oklahoma Department of Health has confirmed 2,465 positive cases across the state, with 136 deaths, a 5% day-over-day increase.