Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first governor to contract the infection.
Sitt said he is mostly asymptomatic, apart from feeling some slight aches. He said he got the positive test result around lunchtime Tuesday.
“I’ll be taking precautions. I’m now isolated away from my family,” Stitt said, adding that his wife, Sarah, and children have tested negative. “I’ll be working from home until it’s ready to get back to normal. So I’ll be doing a lot more Zoom calls.”
Despite catching the virus, Stitt remained steadfast that he will not mandate masks for the state’s residents.
The governor made the announcement about testing positive in a video call that he and his Interim Health Commissioner, Dr. Lance Frye, had with reporters. A short while later, the state reported the largest one-day increase in new confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a jump of 1,075 to bring the state’s total to 22,813.
Stitt had led a meeting of the Commissioners of the Land Office on Tuesday morning. He wore a mask around his neck but otherwise led the meeting without a mask and answered reporters’ questions after the meeting. Next to him at the table was Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur.
“Commissioner Frye and I have worked with contact tracers based on when my symptoms developed and I would not have been contagious since before Saturday,” Stitt said on Wednesday’s call. “I didn’t have the traditional symptoms of COVID. I want to use my story to remind Oklahomans if you aren’t feeling well, we want you to get tested.”
Stitt, who attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa on June 20, said it was unlikely he caught the virus at the rally. Stitt and most other dignitaries on the stage with Trump were not wearing masks.
“Where he became infected is really unknown,” Frye said on the call. “It could be anytime in the last couple of weeks but it wasn’t so far back as the rally.”
Frye said the governor’s office is in the process of contacting people the governor was in close proximity to in the last several days. He said standard contact tracing protocol would include anyone in close proximity, or within six feet, to the governor for 15 minutes or more.
Stitt, who has resisted calls to issue a statewide mandate for masks, said his positive test result hasn’t changed his mind. Instead, he advised residents to check the state’s new weekly alert system with the latest county updates on COVID-19. Stitt said it would be hard to enforce a mask mandate because it would place pressure on local law enforcement officials. Previously, he has said he won’t be a “mask-shamer.”
“I’m not thinking about a mask mandate at all,” Stitt said on Wednesday. “Across the state of Oklahoma, you’ve got different communities with different needs. We want to give businesses the freedom.
“I know some businesses are mandating masks and that’s great. But you can’t pick and choose which freedoms you’re going to give people. If the businesses want to do it, if the local municipalities want to do it, that’s fine.”
Oklahoma City and Tulsa are working on new city ordinances for masks. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, said Wednesday it will require masks in all of its stores starting next week. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide mask order on July 2. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly also announced a mask order earlier this month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on Tuesday for all Americans to wear masks to control the spread of coronavirus.
“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a news release. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.