Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | April 15, 2020

Oklahoma rally calls for ‘back to work’ order

Ray Carter

As data continues to show Oklahoma has achieved the stated purpose of the government-ordered shutdown of businesses by allowing the health care system to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic’s peak, citizens at a rally on Wednesday called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to reopen the state.

Lori Gracey, an organizer of the “OK Back 2 Work” drive-by rally, said the idea for the event was born in conversations a week prior.

“People are getting frustrated, getting tired of being locked down, not being able to get out and work, move about freely,” Gracey said. “And we thought, well, it would be nice to do some kind of rally, but we also wanted to acknowledge the fact that social distancing is still important for those who are vulnerable, so what could we do? And we came up with this idea of a rolling rally where people could go to the Capitol in their vehicles, show up in masks, a large number of folks in their cars, and instead of waving signs mark the car windows with messages.”

Participants drove by the Capitol, displaying a range of messages in support of reopening the state and allowing citizens to work again.

Gracey said the main purpose of the rally is to encourage Stitt to lift his “safer at home” order that forced the closure of businesses and the associated firing and furloughing of thousands.

“Let’s get Oklahoma back to work,” Gracey said. “I totally believe that we’re looking at a false dichotomy. They’re trying to say it’s an either/or. We can either work or we can keep people safe—and I don’t buy that. I believe that we can keep people safe and we can get people back to work.”

Gracey noted similar rallies are being held in other states across the nation.

Rally participants said health precautions will still be necessary in the workplace but say those protective measures can be implemented without a complete shutdown of employment. They also noted that the state’s most at-risk populations, such as nursing home residents, will continue to require a greater level of protection than the general public.

The government-ordered closure of Oklahoma businesses, and associated layoffs and furloughs, was done not to reduce total COVID-19 infections but to lengthen the amount of time in which the spread occurred and “flatten the curve” so the health care system is not overwhelmed.

Officials have recently indicated that goal has been achieved. While one model cited by state officials predicted Oklahoma will need a maximum 2,698 hospital beds at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has 4,633 beds available. It’s estimated that 229 intensive care unit (ICU) beds will be required and three times that number are available. Models predict Oklahoma will need 195 ventilators for COVID-19 patients; 1,800 are available. At the same time, Oklahoma hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 continue to be much lower than predicted by models.

Those participating in the rally included a wide range of people, Gracey said, including “grassroots activists, some who are still working, some who are retired who have family members who are affected,” small business owners and employees of large corporations.

“Pretty much just concerned citizens from young to old, retired and working,” Gracey said. “We’re just solid Oklahomans who want to get this state back on its feet. Because we are as concerned about people’s livelihood as we are their health. Those two things go hand in hand, and we want to make sure that people are able to provide for their families and not have all these secondary and tertiary issues that are arising that we see in the news about people who have lost their livelihood, they don’t have income, they can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy groceries.”

A gubernatorial spokesman indicated planning is underway to end the shutdown.

“The governor understands this is a difficult time for Oklahomans, and he is working with his team on a plan to safely and responsibly reopen our businesses across the state,” said Baylee Lakey, the governor’s communications director. “The governor is being judicious in all decisions he makes, which are based off the scientific data in Oklahoma and advice from his public health advisors, and he will continue to ensure that the safety and health of Oklahomans is prioritized while also providing our businesses with as much assistance as possible during this time.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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