Stitt has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself.
“We respect people’s rights ... to not wear a mask,” Stitt said during Wednesday’s news conference, which was held virtually. “You just open up a big can of worms.
“A lot of businesses are requiring it, and that’s fine,” he said. “I’m just hesitant to mandate something that I think is problematic to enforce.”
Stitt attended President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said likely contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there.
Stitt said he’s confident he didn’t contract the virus at the rally.
“As far as where he became infected, it’s really unknown,” Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said. “It wasn’t so far back as the rally,” which took place nearly a month ago.
Most people infected by the new coronavirus develop mild or moderate symptoms and recover after about two weeks.
The governor doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions that would make him particularly susceptible to serious complications associated with the virus, Stitt’s spokesman Charlie Hannema said.
Frye said contact tracing has begun in Stitt’s case, with a particular emphasis on determining those who may have been within 6 feet of the governor for longer than 15 minutes.
In recent months, Stitt has attended numerous meetings and press conferences in which he was in close contact with people without wearing a mask. And he came under fire early in the pandemic after he tweeted a photo of himself and his children eating at a crowded restaurant.
One of Stitt’s cabinet members, David Ostrowe, tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
On Tuesday morning, Stitt attended a meeting of the Commissioners of the Land Office in a conference room at the state Capitol that was attended by more than 20 people.
Stitt said he has reached out to Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur whom he said he spoke with during the meeting. Pinnell said on Twitter that he’s not experiencing any virus symptoms but that he plans to be tested and will quarantine at home.
Stitt also attended a meeting earlier this month with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who is considering Tulsa as a possible site for the automaker’s new U.S. assembly plant.
A Tulsa restaurant that Stitt visited last week, Kai Vietnamese Cuisine, announced on its Facebook page that it was closing temporarily so that its staff can be tested and the restaurant professionally cleaned.
Stitt’s announcement came as Oklahoma reported a second consecutive day of record-high numbers of confirmed new virus cases, with 1,075, bringing the statewide total to more than 22,000. The previous daily high was 993 confirmed cases on Tuesday. Health officials also confirmed four additional COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 432.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations also are surging in Oklahoma, increasing from 458 last week to 561 on Wednesday, although Frye said there is still plenty of hospital capacity.
While Stitt has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, several local municipalities have enacted one, including the college towns of Norman and Stillwater. Tulsa’s city council is expected to consider a mask mandate on Wednesday.
Dr. George Monks, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Stitt’s diagnosis is an “unfortunate reminder that no one is safe from this rampant pandemic.”
“On behalf of Oklahoma’s physicians, we wish the governor a quick recovery and encourage all Oklahomans to take protective measures that can help slow the spread of coronavirus.”
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