Culture & the Family

COVID numbers plunge as Oklahoma economy remains strong

February 24, 2022

Ray Carter

When Gov. Kevin Stitt gave his State of the State address to lawmakers on Feb. 7, he highlighted the fact that Oklahoma was not among the states that significantly shut down their economies in response to COVID-19.

That the governor focused on state economic health rather than discussing COVID promptly drew complaints from some political opponents.

But less than a month later, Oklahoma’s COVID rate has plummeted while economic figures remain positive.

“Governor Stitt’s approach to COVID placed freedom and personal responsibility over lockdowns and mandates,” said Carly Atchison, communications director for Stitt, “and his response was without a doubt one of the best in the nation.”

In his State of the State address on Feb. 7, Stitt did not specifically discuss COVID-19, but he did note, “While other states are shutting down their economies, we’ve never been more open for business.”

Among other things, Stitt noted that 40,000 more Oklahomans have jobs than when he first took office, state unemployment had fallen to 2.3 percent, the lowest in state history, and many citizens were trying to “escape liberal lockdown states” with more than 27,000 of those individuals moving to Oklahoma since April 2020.

Critics objected to Stitt’s focus.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who switched parties to seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and has criticized Stitt’s handling of COVID, complained after the State of the State address that Stitt “failed to mention the global pandemic.”

A statement issued on behalf of the Oklahoma Senate Democratic caucus declared, “We are disappointed that the governor did not mention COVID-19 in his speech or offer any plans to get the pandemic under control. Our caucus believes our state’s top priority is defeating the pandemic so we can focus on recovery and our state’s most urgent challenges.”

And House Democratic Leader Emily Virgin of Norman responded, “I understand that our economy is open and the governor likes to brag about that, but the fact is many Oklahomans are still suffering from a loss, many businesses are still suffering because of the losses we’ve had throughout this pandemic, and to not mention that is unconscionable.”

Yet even as Democrats lobbed those criticisms, state data showed COVID cases were already plunging, and the decline has continued at a rapid pace since.

When Stitt gave his speech on Feb. 7, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reported there were 50,355 active COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma. That was already down 62 percent from the 133,175 active cases reported only a few weeks prior on Jan. 25.

Today, there are relatively few active cases of COVID in the state. As of Feb. 24, OSDH reported there were 7,083 active cases in Oklahoma, a decline of 95 percent since Jan. 25. For roughly every 560 Oklahomans, one individual had an active case of COVID on Feb. 24.

While some of Stitt’s COVID critics have been quick to attribute any surge in cases to the governor’s policies, they have said little when cases have declined on his watch.

Atchison said Stitt has focused on providing information to the public rather than trying to micromanage citizens’ affairs from the Oklahoma Capitol.

“He promised full transparency, so Oklahoma was the first state to launch a data transparency dashboard, right down to ZIP codes,” Atchison said. “Oklahoma was also one of the first states to get drive-thru testing in all counties and all schools, first responders, hospitals, and other front-line workers have been successfully stocked with PPE supplies.”

Throughout the pandemic, COVID trends in Oklahoma have largely followed the same trajectories seen in other states, but Oklahoma has not suffered the economic harm created by the economic lockdowns imposed in some other states to combat COVID.

“Oklahoma was one of the first states to fully reopen our economy and our schools have provided in-person learning for our students,” Atchison said. “Today we have the third-lowest unemployment rate in the nation, the fourth-largest budget reserves in the nation, and there are more Oklahomans in the workforce than ever before in state history.”