Gov. Kevin Stitt said the state health department is lifting some of the restrictions on who can be tested for COVID-19, urging any Oklahomans with symptoms to get tested for the coronavirus.
In his Wednesday press conference broadcast on Facebook, the governor also explained that he will be extending all of the provisions from his original executive order to all 77 counties in Oklahoma until April 30, which includes suspending operations of non-essential businesses that require social gatherings and suspending elective surgeries, among other things.
Stitt said these extensions are due to the expectation of a late-April peak of the coronavirus for the state.
“I know how much these decisions affect people, and I have agonized over all these decisions,” Stitt said. “This is the right time to take these steps to protect health care workers, our hospital systems and each other from catching COVID-19. These next few weeks are going to be really critical to slowing the spread in Oklahoma.”
Stitt said the state has 13,600 test kits available as of today, and now that Oklahoma State University has opened its testing lab, it can perform 2,300 tests per day. He also said anyone who has come into contact with someone with COVID-19 or has symptoms “needs to be tested this week.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has said if an individual begins experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — including fever, cough or shortness of breath — to contact a medical professional or call the COVID-19 call center at 877-215-8336 or 211 for assistance.
“Providers, health care officials, hospitals, county drive-thru testing facilities — if you can hear me, please begin testing all of those folks today,” Stitt said.
Stitt said he has been working with the state epidemiologist along with experts from OU and OSU to find “the best data to help drive all of our decision-making.”
The governor explained that more testing will help with monitoring the peaks of the coronavirus, and stressed that Oklahoma can now process the volume of tests the state receives. Thirteen mobile testing facilities should be available throughout the state by the end of the week, Stitt said, including facilities that were recently opened in Altus and Adair.
The full list of mobile testing facilities can be found at coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
Stitt said 70 percent of Oklahomans who have died from COVID-19 were over the age of 65, and the other nine individuals had underlying health conditions. He urged these populations, who are part of his ‘safer at home’ restriction, to not have visitors during this time and remain at home until the end of April.
“No one understands the situation on the ground, in our cities and counties, better than the people who live in them,” Stitt said. “I understand some mayors and county commissioners will feel the need to take additional measures in their communities, and it is important that we all work together to save lives. My number one goal is the health and safety of Oklahomans.”
The state has experienced 20,000 calls per day to the unemployment department, and Stitt said the state has added staff and technology to better attend to Oklahomans who have lost their jobs. To file unemployment, Stitt said Oklahomans should visit ok.gov for the fastest measures possible.
Oklahoma received its full allotment of personal protective equipment from the federal government this week, Stitt said, which will be reserved for those delivering care to COVID-19 patients, hospital ICUs and first responders.
Stitt said he will release information on the state’s plans for surges in hospital patients, and explained that the modeling shows between 4,000 to 6,800 hospital beds are needed. The state may need to acquire more ventilators depending on when the virus peaks, Stitt said.
State Secretary of Health and Human Services Jerome Loughridge said in the press conference the state plans on having two COVID-19 centers in Oklahoma County and Tulsa, with concentric circles around the centers of hospitals accounting for the surges and field hospitals from FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“We have folks focused specifically on ventilators, we have folks specifically focused on our ICU capacity, and we’ve been working around the clock to help our hospitals with their surge plans as well,” Stitt said.
Stitt said he thinks his order is the “right thing for Oklahoma at this time,” rather than a shelter-in-place.
“Oklahoma, I know this is really a difficult time for all of us, and I realize that many Oklahomans are anxious right now or they’re fearful of the impact this virus might have on their health or their loved one’s health,” Stitt said. “Most of us are just not sure when life is going to get back to normal. We’re all in this together. … We need to stick together to protect ourselves, our families, our loved ones and our state.”