*Editor's note: After going to print, the Oklahoma State Department of Health updated the number in Oklahoma to 29. This was as of 7:00 a.m. March 18.*
COVID-19 news came at a quick pace March 17 after someone at the Oklahoma Senate tested positive for the virus earlier in the day. The positive test was among seven new cases reported Tuesday by state health officials. This brought the total to seventeen across the state.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website there are 82 cases that are pending results in addition to another 247 negative tests. These figures were last updated Tuesday morning.
The March 17 update came
The office of State Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Okla. City) sent out a statement about the positive test midday.
“While the risk to a majority of Senate personnel and senators remains low, per the recommendation and under the guidance of health officials, we are taking appropriate measures,” the statement said.
It was not clear as of late March 17 if the positive test belonged to a senator or a staff member.
“They’re not telling us who,” said one state Senate source who requested anonymity as they work in the building.
The source went on to add that multiple people were being tested for COVID-19.
The Tulsa World reported State Epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed stating that some 30 Senate personnel opted to get testing from a private lab.
Treat announced a closure of the state Senate from March 18 to Friday, March 20. State Senator David Bullard (R-Durant) told The Madill Record that the Senate held a joint caucus with both Republican and Democratic members following that afternoon ahead of voting on emergency measures. These included SB661, which is related to temporarily revise the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act to allow meetings by teleconference or videoconference for Oklahoma public bodies such as the state legislature and city councils.
The Senate later adjourned at the call of the Chair. The state House made the same move earlier in the day, said Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill).
“So, it’s a wait and see what happens,” Hardin said.
State officials respond
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R-Tulsa) held a joint press conference with state health commissioner Gary Cox and Burnsted to provide an update on COVID-19 March 17 in the Okla. State Capitol Blue Room.
The trio previously held a similar press conference March 12.
Stitt began the press conference by launching straight into new guidelines that changed in last 24 hours.
“I’m issuing an Executive Order that all Oklahomans follow all CDC guidelines,” he said. “It will strongly recommend no gatherings of more than 10 people.”
The governor added that those with a cough, fever or shortness of breath should consult with the medical provider but not rush to a hospital. He advised people who think they may have COVID-19 to call the state’s COVID-19 hotline 877-215-8336.
“It is critical that we do not flood our hospitals,” he said. “Strongly keep in mind that 80% of people who get this have mild symptoms.”
Stitt said he sent most of his staff home to work remotely earlier that day.
“This is gonna cause great upheaval for the hardworking Oklahomans,” he said. “We need our job creators to get creative during these critical times. I’ve spoken to both the Oklahoma Restaurant Association and Oklahoma Grocers Associations.”
Cox said the state health department will continue to take steps to limit community spread.
“Almost all of those mild cases could be treated at home,” he said. “We’re relying on these providers to determine the need the further testing."
Cox said they are working with the nine health department districts across the state to provide more tests.
“As it becomes available there will be more testing,” he said.