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Joseph Harroz, Gov. Stitt visit OU food pantry, discuss local impact of wearing masks

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OU Food Pantry Staff, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and OU President Joseph Harroz

OU Food Pantry Staff, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, wearing a "Thin Blue Line" neck gaiter, and OU President Joseph Harroz stand in front of the OU Food Pantry on Sept. 1.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt visited the OU Food Pantry alongside OU President Joseph Harroz Tuesday afternoon.

During the roughly 45 minute visit, Stitt talked to the students on the food pantry’s executive team and received a tour of the pantry and the storage center. The governor’s visit ended with a race between Harroz and Stitt to see who could bag food faster.

The OU Food Pantry has continued to stay open amid the pandemic, offering altered services to the community members that continue to need them. The food pantry began filling online orders during the spring 2020 semester to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The organization also continues to welcome financial donations from the OU community. 

“I’m super impressed in how the kids are joining in and serving their community, it's what it’s all about,” Stitt said. “It was really neat to see them serve.”

Stitt was photographed wearing a neck-gaiter, which is not considered an acceptable masking option according to OU's mandatory masking policy. The event took place at an indoor university facility, which would require suitable masks to be worn, according to the policy.

At 11:57 a.m., OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said in an email Stitt and his staff were provided OU-branded masks during the visit and did observe social distancing when possible.

At 3:11 p.m., OU Director of Government Affairs John Woods said in an email he was asked by Stitt's communications director Baylee Lakey to reach out to The Daily. He said Stitt was not handed a mask from anyone at OU or asked to change masks, and that he complied with university masking protocols. 

"Any oversight on specifics were mine in communication to his staff," Woods said. "We greatly appreciate his visit to the OU Food Pantry and his recognition of our students doing incredible work for their fellow members of the OU community." 

At 4:34 p.m., Keith said in an email to refer to Woods' statement, as there was miscommunication surrounding her original statement. 

At 5:09 p.m. Lakey sent the following in an email: 

The governor followed instructions provided by the University and wore a mask during his entire visit to the OU Food Pantry. However, he was not handed an "OU-branded" mask or asked to switch to a different mask. The governor was proud to join President Joe Harroz to see the hard work and dedication of the students at the food pantry as they strive to address food insecurity in their community, and he looks forward to seeing the program continue to develop and grow in the years to come.

Harroz said he was proud of the governor for coming to the event.

“When you look at the agenda he has right now during a crisis and all that’s going on in the state, to take an invitation sent by those who are leading this, I think that says a lot,” Harroz said. “I’m proud he did it, I’m proud of the leadership involved in this.”

Harroz also said he is “cautiously optimistic” with how the first weeks on campus have started and with how students have listened to the COVID precautions.

“I’m cautiously optimistic —and I realize I’m not everywhere students are —but when I walk across campus I really am cautiously optimistic,” Harroz said. “So far students are showing us who they are and who we are.”

On Aug. 28 Goddard reported a total of 105 positive cases with a 15 percent positive test rate, according to OU’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Harroz also praised the faculty and staff for their hard work to get students back on campus.

“I’ve seen what our faculty and staff have done to prepare for this, it was five months in the making and we had no assurances that we would be here,” Harroz said. “It’s cautious optimism not cautions pride. No matter how serious the faculty and staff are, this can’t be done without the students.”

A mask mandate was one of the main precautions on campus for the return of students. At a press conference Tuesday morning Stitt mentioned their effectiveness, acknowledging COVID-19 infections were declining in areas with mask mandates. When asked at the event if there would be a state-wide mask mandate, he quickly shut it down.

This comment came just a month after he said at a press conference he didn’t need to wear a mask because he already had COVID-19.

“I am not going to do a state-wide mask mandate, we leave that to local municipalities,” Stitt said. “We are not going to mandate a farmer to wear a mask on his tractor when there’s been no cases in those counties. We support masks and support folks wearing those.”

This article was updated at 6:07 p.m. Sept. 2 to include more context on OU Food Pantry operations and information on whether an OU-branded mask was offered to Gov. Kevin Stitt. 

This article was updated was updated at 8:59 p.m. Sept. 2 to correct that the food pantry began filling online orders during the spring 2020 semester, rather than 2019. 

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