Stitt says not yet time for statewide shelter in place order

Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt confirmed the state's first case of COVID-19 on March 6.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Now is not the time for a statewide shelter in place order in Oklahoma due to the coronavirus, Gov. Kevin Stitt said as the number of people in the state confirmed with the virus now stands at 81.

“We're hearing of stuff happening in New York City, in California or Chicago,” Stitt, a Republican, said during a Sunday evening news conference. “We have a different set of facts here.

“I’m not saying it couldn’t happen.”

Stitt also has so far declined to order restaurants, bars and other businesses where people congregate to shut down statewide, although mayors in several of the state's largest cities have issued such directives. City and public health officials in Tulsa urged the governor to impose a statewide shutdown of bars and restaurants last week, and over the weekend the head of Oklahoma City-based Paycom wrote a letter to Stitt urging him to take further action, including a ban on non-essential travel from state airports and temporary closing of salons, spas and massage parlors.

“In the face of one of the greatest threats our nation has seen, you have chosen to defer the power, given to you by the people of our state, to mayors," Paycom CEO Chad Richison wrote to Stitt.

All casinos in the state, operated by nearly three dozen separate Native American tribes, also have now shut down, the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association announced on Monday.

And State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she intends to propose a plan to allow students to complete the school year through distance learning that would allow school buildings to remain closed for the rest of the school year.

The state Department of Health announced a second death in the state due to the virus on Sunday and said Monday the number of cases rose from 67 on Sunday. But health officials say the actual number of people who have the virus is likely much higher.

The death is a man in his 50s who lived in Pawnee County, west of Tulsa County where the first death was reported last week.

The vast majority of people who contract the virus recover within weeks. It causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but it can lead to more severe illness, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with preexisting health problems.

The Health Department also announced on Monday plans to open mobile testing labs in Lawton, McAlester, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and said more testing will be done through laboratories at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.

Tulsa officials announced that a test excavation to search for mass graves connected to the 1921 Tulsa race massacre also will be postponed due to the coronavirus threat.

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Associated Press reporter Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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