Gov. Stitt will not declare new state of emergency as COVID cases rise in Oklahoma

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt will not declare a new State of Emergency for the recent uptick in COVID-19 Delta variant infections.

Some education and medical professionals from across the state were urging Stitt to declare a new State of Emergency so school districts could issue mask mandates for students with the new school year starting in a few weeks.

Senate Bill 658, signed into law last month by Governor Kevin Stitt, prohibits a district from implementing mask mandates or vaccine requirements without a State of Emergency being declared by the governor.

“I’m not planning on declaring an emergency,” Stitt said. “Again, this is about personal responsibility. This is about freedoms. Nothing in the legislation last year prevents a parent from sending their child to school with a mask on.”

Stitt said it is up to parents to protect their children in the best way they see fit while a vaccine for kids 12-years-old and younger is still being researched.

When SB 658 was written, the strain of COVID-19 that made up the most cases at the time was mainly a threat to older adults and the elderly. After the law took effect on July 1, the Delta variant arrived in Oklahoma.

“We now have children showing up in ICUs in other states with COVID Delta who are experiencing COVID pneumonia and need to be given oxygen,” Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OU Health, said Tuesday.

Tyungu spoke as a part of the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition, which is endorsed by and has members from the Oklahoma State Medical Association. The doctors all agreed that Delta variant of COVID will present a greater challenge to students and parents in the upcoming school season because the Delta variant is attacking younger people, and its mortality rate is higher than previous COVID variants.

“From a prevention perspective, our hands are tied,” Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said about SB 658.

Earlier this week, Oklahoma State School Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister told us she too was worried that some children were going into the upcoming school year unprotected and vulnerable to a COVID Delta outbreak with districts unable to make decisions for themselves.

Tyungu says while the risk of an outbreak may be higher in elementary schools, students in middle schools and high schools could be a bit safer depending on how many students have received the vaccine and how many students plan to wear a mask while in class. With the minimum age for a COVID vaccine being 12-years-old, more students in high schools and middle schools will have built up at least some immunity from the virus with the help of a vaccine. If a vaccination rate at a school is high, she said the chances of an outbreak will be smaller than if an entire school is filled with unvaccinated students prone to COVID Delta.

Stitt said Oklahoma would not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students to attend school.