Economy, Culture & the Family

Stitt plans to reopen Oklahoma soon

April 15, 2020

Ray Carter

Amidst growing evidence that Oklahoma has dramatically flattened the growth curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced today that many currently shuttered businesses may soon be allowed to reopen while elective surgeries will resume before the end of April.

“Because we are flattening the curve, we are working on plans to reopen our state,” Stitt said. “But let me be clear: We are not out of the woods yet.”

He urged Oklahomans to continue social distancing and aggressive hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus. Oklahoma now has 80 test sites statewide, and the governor called on all citizens experiencing COVID-like systems to get tested.

The government-ordered closure of “nonessential” businesses in Oklahoma was done to keep COVID-19 hospitalizations from rapidly spiking in a short time and instead spread the infection out over a longer time frame to avoid overloading the health care system.

Stitt cited figures that show the maximum number of hospital beds required to treat Oklahomans for COVID-19 today is just 17 percent of the total predicted by models only last month.

In late March, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model predicted that roughly 5,000 hospital beds would be needed for COVID-19 patients in Oklahoma at the state peak of the pandemic. By April 1, that estimate was lowered to about 3,000 beds. On April 8, the estimate declined further to 1,115 beds. Now the model predicts a maximum of 882 hospital beds will be needed, Stitt said.

“We are in fantastic shape on hospital beds,” Stitt said.

As of April 14, there were 420 people in Oklahoma hospitalized for COVID-19.

“The significance of that number: It stayed flat for the last 17 days,” Stitt said. “Our hospitalizations peaked on March 30 and have continued to decline since then.”

The governor said the total number of Oklahomans simultaneously hospitalized for COVID-19 topped out at 560 on March 30 and has declined since.

Among Stitt’s prior orders was one to suspend “elective surgeries” through April 30. That order was issued to preserve bed space for COVID patients and personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel.

However, that created enormous financial problems for many hospitals, which generate substantial revenue from the banned surgeries, leading to furloughs or layoffs at some medical centers.

“Hospitals have had to furlough workers in some cases, and I’ve heard of nurses, single moms, who have lost their jobs because the demand is so low,” Stitt said. “Because we feel good about our hospital numbers and our PPE, I am announcing today that elective surgeries can resume in nine days on April 24.”

All other executive orders that restrict citizen and business activity are currently set to expire on April 30. Stitt announced he has extended one order—the “safer at home” order that restricts the movement of and access to elderly and immunocompromised people—until May 6. That order affects only “vulnerable populations,” he noted.

The other orders are still set to expire on April 30 but are being reviewed.

Stitt said he has visited with mayors across Oklahoma, including the mayors of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, to discuss statewide guidelines that will direct the reopening process. Stitt said officials are meeting with the state restaurant association, and the state Health Department is now working on guidelines to “reopen restaurants and nonessential businesses in a safe manner.”

“When we say ‘opening back up the economy,’ we’re talking about the nonessential businesses that have closed down, so you’re talking about restaurants, barber shops, eventually museums, eventually all of those social-gathering businesses,” Stitt said.

Where work-from-home remains feasible, Stitt encouraged businesses to continue that practice, saying “we’ll phase them back into the office over time.”

The governor concluded with a simple and direct message for Oklahomans.

“Light is at the end of the tunnel,” Stitt said. “You have been doing a fantastic job of social distancing and we have flattened the curve, to your credit. So, just a little bit longer, I want everybody to stay home, stay safe, and stay strong.”