The latest report from the White House coronavirus task force on the status of Oklahoma's battle with COVID-19 shows certain trends worsening and the Trump administration continuing to call for Gov. Kevin Stitt to implement a statewide mask mandate.
The report, dated Aug. 23rd but released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Aug. 26th, shows that Oklahoma still remains in the "red zone" for cases of the novel coronavirus, with the 12th highest rate of cases per 100,000 people in the country.
In test positivity, Oklahoma ranks even worse, at 9.9%, the 8th worst in the country. (The national average is 5.8%.)
"With the continued geographic expansion of COVID-19 spread, a mask mandate needs to be implemented statewide (in counties with greater than 20 cases) to decrease community transmission," the report reads. (According to data updated from the state health department, it appears that would apply to at least 49 counties as of Wednesday.)
"Bars must be closed; indoor dining must be restricted to 50% capacity in yellow and 25% capacity in red zone counties and metro areas," it continues.
The report lists 20 counties, including Tulsa, Rogers, and Wagoner, as red zone counties. It lists 26 counties as in the yellow zone. It recommends that red counties ban social gatherings of more than 10 people, and yellow counties ban those of more than 25, among other imperatives.
Of the six metro areas listed in the previous week's report (Tulsa, Enid, McAlester, Fort Smith, Miami, and Guymon), only Guymon was downgraded to yellow. The latest report now lists the areas of Weatherford and Elk City as being in the red zone.
The report instructs the state to specifically work with rural communities "to develop effective public health messages... about the common sense measures that citizens and businesses should adopt to prevent COVID-19." It also says messaging should be developed to specifically target tribal nations and university students.
The reports, which have been issued roughly weekly by the task force chaired by Vice President Mike Pence since June, had not been made public by either Stitt's office or the federal government until recently, when the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity began obtaining and publishing them.
Public Radio Tulsa found that for the report from Aug. 16th, none of the communities listed as red zone metro areas had received any information from the state with the specific policy recommendations the task force was issuing for their cities and counties. Afterwards, the governor committed to publishing them. The state health department said this week that they will be released every Wednesday at noon moving forward.
Stitt has so far resisted implementing the federal government's recommendations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite being the first governor known to have caught the virus himself, he has said he will not consider implementing a mask mandate for Oklahoma. In a July statement, the governor's office said the White House recommendations are not mandates or orders.