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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Cleveland County commissioner talk about reimbursements, reopening status, mask-wearing

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Gov. Kevin Stitt at a press conference at the Oklahoma City Capitol March 1, 2019.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt talked about COVID-19-related reimbursements for agencies and municipalities, how counties have responded to COVID-19, and the use of personal protective equipment in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

In the press conference, which was streamed live through multiple local media outlets, Stitt said Oklahoma is one of the first states to launch an online portal for municipalities, state agencies and counties to submit requests for reimbursements for expenses related to COVID-19. Reimbursements will be paid with money allocated through the federal CARES Act.

Stitt said in the conference Oklahoma’s goal is to formally start processing reimbursement requests and issuing payments on June 1. Stitt said he urged state agencies, municipalities and counties to fill out their reimbursement requests on the online portal as soon as possible.

Cleveland County Commissioner Rod Cleveland also spoke and said his county — the home of Norman and OU — has been one of the “hardest hit” of all Oklahoma counties. Cleveland said the county is now at almost 90 percent recovery.

Cleveland County has experienced 472 COVID-19 cases and 37 deaths, making Cleveland County No. 4 in cases and No. 3 in deaths. Seventeen of those deaths and 126 of those cases occurred in Norman nursing homes. 

“We are coming back, and it’s been (because of) the help of the citizens of Cleveland County, and also with the governor’s office and their work,” Cleveland said at the conference.

Stitt also announced the launch of Oklahoma’s new online checkbook to track CARES reimbursements. Stitt said the checkbook will post the latest distributions of funds every day. 

Stitt said after 25 days of gradually reopening the state, Oklahoma has 1,060 active cases of COVID-19 out of approximately 4 million residents. 

“It’s no time to take our foot off the gas, by no means,” Stitt said. “We know that we have coronavirus in our state — it’s in every state — so we have to continue with the social distancing and different precautions. But we have to learn how to live with it and Oklahomans are leading the nation and doing that better than anybody.”

Oklahoma has 209 COVID-19-related hospitalizations, as of Wednesday’s state reports. Over the last two weeks, Oklahoma’s hospitalizations have been up and down, rising to a high of 218 on May 13, falling to a low of 167 on May 19, and rising again to its current level.

“(The intention) was never to have zero people in the hospitals,” Stitt said. “It was to prepare for the capacity, to make sure we were prepared with (personal protective equipment), and we have 4,600 hospital beds, so (209) people across the state is still a downward trend. … You might have small little ups or downs, but that data still looks really good to continue through Phase 2 (of reopening Oklahoma).”

Stitt also said choosing to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a “personal preference.”

“If you feel safer in a mask, then we definitely encourage you to do that,” Stitt — who was not wearing a mask — said. “If you can (maintain) social (distancing), we don’t think you necessarily need to have a mask, but that’s a personal preference. I’m going to be very cautious about mandating certain things to Oklahomans.”

Beth Wallis is a senior journalism major and political science minor, and news managing editor for The Daily. Previously, she worked as a junior news reporter covering university research.

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