By Paul Monies
An internal White House report about states in the so-called “red zone” for COVID-19 includes Oklahoma and recommends mandating masks and closing bars and gyms in localized areas where infections are spreading rapidly.
The report, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative reporting outlet, highlights 18 states at a tipping point for community spread of the virus.
Oklahoma Watch contacted the Oklahoma State Department of Health about the report and its recommendations, but the agency has not yet responded.
Here’s five takeaways from the Oklahoma section of the report, which includes data through July 14:
Case Increases and Test Positivities Rising
Oklahoma’s increase in cases in the past two weeks put in the red zone for cases. The state has had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people last week. The national average last week was 119 new cases per 100,000 people. Meanwhile, the percent of positive tests has also increased, putting the state in the yellow zone, the report said. The yellow zone has positive tests between 5% and 10%. The state’s latest snapshot put the overall positive test rate of specimens at 5.7%. That’s up from 3.9% a month ago.
Four Oklahoma Counties in the Red Zone
Tulsa, Oklahoma, Okmulgee and Ottawa counties are listed in the red zone for Oklahoma. “Tulsa and Oklahoma City have significantly increased burden since last week,” the report said. “Urgent attention to these areas with specific interventions is critical.” Another 29 counties are in the yellow zone, including the top 12 that had the highest number of cases in the past three weeks: Cleveland, McCurtain, Canadian, Rogers, Wagoner, Comanche, McClain, Bryan, Muskogee, Osage, Garvin and Mayes.
Mask Requirement for Red Zone Areas
In red zone counties, the report recommends public officials mandate masks outside the home for “all current and evolving hot spots.” Gov. Kevin Stitt has remained firm on his stance not to require masks statewide, leaving the decision to local officials. Indoor mask requirements have already been approved in Tulsa, and the Oklahoma City council is voting on an ordinance on Friday. Meanwhile, Colorado and Arkansas governors approved statewide mask mandates on Thursday, meaning Oklahoma and Missouri are the only states in the seven-state region that don’t have a statewide mask mandate.
Close Bars, Gyms in Hot Spot Counties
Public officials should close bars, gyms and nightclubs in red zone counties, move to outdoor dining and limit indoor dining to 25% of capacity, the report recommends. This recommendation would mean those areas would be under much of the same conditions for those types of businesses before Oklahoma embarked on its reopening plan in late April. Restaurant and bar owners have been particularly hard-hit by the effects of the coronavirus on their businesses.
CDC, FEMA Helping in Oklahoma
The report said seven employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are on the ground in Oklahoma and helping with the state’s response. It’s unclear from the report how long the federal help has been deployed to Oklahoma.