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Gov. Kevin Stitt implements mask mandate for state employees, discusses COVID-19 vaccine

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Gov. Kevin Stitt

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a press conference Nov. 16, 2020. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt and Commissioner of Health Lance Frye announced new regulations amid the spread of COVID-19 and rising numbers statewide at a press conference today.

Effective Thursday, Stitt said all restaurant seating must be spaced 6 feet apart, and restaurants and bars must close at 11 p.m, except for curbside pickup  or drive through windows. Starting Tuesday, all state employees —   around 33,000 people —  are required to wear a mask in common areas or while sharing their working space. 

Stitt said in the press conference  the state is taking these steps in order “to protect the health and lives of Oklahoman, to keep our businesses open safely and to get all kids back in school in person learning at the end of the Christmas break.” 

According to Stitt, each of the executive orders have to be renewed every 30 days throughout COVID-19 to gauge the measures’ effectiveness. 

COVID-19 cases have continued to increase in Oklahoma, and Stitt said the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 have grown 19 percent  since last week. 

According to the COVID-19 data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, there are 175 new COVID-19 cases in Cleveland County and 94 new COVID-19 cases in Norman as of Nov.as of Nov. 16. 

“We've been fully reopened for six months now, but recently we've seen our numbers starting to climb based on the data in our states, specifically in the rise in hospitalizations,” Stitt said in the press conference. “Oklahoma, I need your help. But more importantly, our healthcare professionals and hospitals need your help.”

Jim Hawk Hopper, president of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said in the press conference that the restaurant industry in Oklahoma supports the actions announced by the governor.  However, he asked Oklahomans to “continue supporting” their local restaurants by dining in safely or ordering food to go. 

Hopper said the Oklahoma Restaurant Association will also request all restaurants that their workers hours are matched during their shifts as well in those times “when they are not on their shifts” in order to follow the regulations by Stitt. 

Commissioner of Health Lance Frye reminded Oklahomans to continue wearing a mask, washing their hands and observing social distances.

He encouraged families to celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday safely by getting a free test before gathering with their families, spreading out tables around their houses in order to distance properly, opening windows or doors, eating outside if possible and delivering food to family members from a safe distance. 

“It's been a long tough year full of challenges and disappointments. COVID has changed all of our lives,” Frye said in the press conference. “That doesn't mean you can't enjoy the holiday. Small things can make a big difference.”

Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID-19 officer, said in an article he suggests OU community members get tested for COVID-19 before visiting their families. He said that “students who test positive should not go home”, if so, they should self-isolate “in order to control the spread” of COVID-19. 

Stitt said he believes “every kid needs to be in school after the holidays.” Although he said 93 percent of the districts across the state have in-person classes  “in some format,” there are others that have not been back since the middle of March, like Tulsa Public Schools.  

“It breaks my heart what's happening to those kids in the Tulsa public school area so we're laying down the goal right now,” Stitt said. “I can't demand a school reopen, (however), we have local control in place, elected school boards and superintendents (who) have to make that call.”

Lastly, Stitt said in the press conference “a vaccine is on its way, but we need to buckle down until then.”

Early on Monday, a second vaccine candidate by Moderna showed to be 94.5 percent effective”, according to the Associated Press. The vaccine is looking for “permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.”

“We've got a great plan on vaccinations and we're going to prioritize our health care workers and our long term care facilities, (for the) first batch (of) 2000 samples,” Stitt said. “I'm recommending that everybody get it once it's available and follow (their) doctor's recommendations.”

Marien López-Medina is an international student and United World Colleges alumna from Nicaragua. She is majoring in journalism with a minor in public and nonprofit administration and works as a news reporter for The Daily.

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