Monday, March 16, 2020

Stitt Declares COVID-19 State of Emergency; ‘Life As We Know it Will Change,’ Governor Says

Concerns over the rapidly growing coronavirus pandemic prompted Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt to declare a state of emergency for all 77 counties in the Sooner State.

As of Monday morning, there have been eight positive COVID-19 tests in the state. There is one case each in Cleveland, Payne, Jackson, Oklahoma and Kay counties and three cases in Tulsa County.

County health officials are working with each case to determine close contacts and any further need for testing.

Moving forward, the CDC is no longer confirming presumptive positive cases. All positive cases reported in the Oklahoma State Department of Health public health laboratory will stand as confirmed.

Folks in Sequoyah County and in the rest of the Sooner State have been asked to take every precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19 out of our area.

Sequoyah County Emergency Management Director Steve Rutherford said Sunday that the emergency declarations by Stitt and President Donald Trump are “mainly for those who already are experiencing a large outbreak. The declaration will help control pricing, supply and other issues.

Dr. Jennifer Scoufos of the Health and Wellness Center in Stigler issued the following statement:

“If you have a student, employee, family member or yourself with symptoms concerning for COVID-19, please use the following protocol:


1. Fever, dry cough, fatigue (most common)

2. Productive cough, shortness of breath, sore throat (next most common)


1. Known contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19


1. Travel outside of the United States in the last 14 days

2. Travel outside the state to a known endemic area

If symptoms are present, along with one of the other two items on the list, ISOLATE the patient and then contact the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Coronavirus Call Center at (877) 215-8336.”

Scoufos says prospective patients also can call their primary care provider’s office and report symptoms and their answers to the above questions and follow instructions from there.

If patients have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and are NOT having breathing difficulties, Scoufos noted, please DO NOT go to the emergency room or to a doctor’s office. Call first, get instructions and follow the advice given. 

In an announcement Sunday, Stitt said “it is now necessary to provide for the rendering of mutual assistance among the state and political subdivisions of the state and to cooperate with the federal government with respect to carrying out emergency functions during the continuance of the state emergency pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Emergency Management Act of 2003.”

The declaration allows the governor to redirect resources through the Department of Emergency Management. According to the declaration, state agencies will be allowed to make emergency purchases up to $250,000 and hire more staff. Stitt said the declaration will also allow hospitals to go around state regulations, although which regulations he's talking about wasn’t clear.

The tone of the governor’s emergency declaration was very different from his previous coronavirus announcements. Just a few days ago, Stitt told Oklahoma schools to stay open and he was widely criticized for taking a picture over the weekend with his two sons at a “packed” Oklahoma City food hall, despite public health warnings about gathering in crowded places. 

On Sunday night, Stitt said, “Life as we know it will change for a little while but it doesn’t have to shut down completely. Continue to find ways to support your local businesses,” Stitt said. “Pay attention to how you’re feeling and make wise choices based on your risk.”

Additional health safety tips include:

Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Help children do the same.

Staying away from people who are ill, especially if you are 60 and older or have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or a weakened immune system.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Limit close contact, like kissing and sharing cups or utensils, with people who are sick.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. If you do not have a tissue, use your sleeve (not your hands). Healthy individuals do not need masks; they are reserved for those who are ill to prevent the spread of germs and health-care workers.

Face masks should only be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The purpose of a face mask is to prevent droplets from sneezing and coughing from becoming airborne.

Stay informed. Information is changing frequently. 

Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer

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