4 minute read

When the number of new coronavirus cases started rising again, many social distancing, mask-wearing Oklahomans felt like we were characters in a modern adaptation of Gaslight, the 1944 George Cukor film in which a husband subtly changes his wife’s environment while denying any differences, causing her to slowly go insane.

We watched as the numbers jumped wildly, from 55 new cases on June 8 to 478 on June 21, and yet we were not being told to modify our behavior.

Opinion

Opinion

by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press

Gov. Kevin Stitt appeared at President Donald Trump’s super-spreader event in Tulsa on June 20, maskless and mouth-breathing, touting the success of Oklahoma being open for 58 days and telling reporters that “the whole reason we signed 25 executive orders was to slow the spread. We’ve done that.”

Stitt told that provable lie on a day when Oklahoma reported 331 new cases, nearly twice as many daily COVID-19 contractions as the highest number during the closure, which was 171 on April 4. While Stitt insists the opposite is true, that rise was not due to increased testing — testing rates have actually fallen in Oklahoma, according to OU Medicine’s Dr. Dale Bratzler.

The gaslighting continued on June 23, when newly appointed state Health Commissioner Lance Frye told The Oklahoman that “the problem is this is kind of unknown territory. We’ve never been here before. We’ve never done this.”

Yes, we have.

The consequences of prematurely ending quarantines are thoroughly documented. On Sept. 28, 1918, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania held a parade in honor of returning World War I servicemen at the height of the flu epidemic. Over 200,000 people poured onto Philadelphia’s Broad Street for the event, which included a patriotic performance led by John Philip Sousa himself.

But then people started getting sick. One week later, 2,600 people in Philadelphia had died. That number climbed to 4,500 a week after that. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Philadelphia shut down almost all public activity on Oct. 3, but it was too late. And, of course, politicians gaslit the hell out of the outbreak by blaming the Germans for allegedly spreading the flu at the parade.

Frye has no excuse for this lack of knowledge. He could Google it, like I just did.

Because state leadership is in full denial mode, a huge number of Oklahoma residents have followed the leader and are no longer taking safety measures. But the reality is far worse for people in high-risk categories.

Jennifer Williams, an education technology specialist at the University of Oklahoma who lives with immunodeficiency, tweeted about her recent visit to a rheumatologist on June 23.

“Getting my monthly infusion and the woman who plopped herself beside me just declared she’s ‘done with masks.’ She’s tired of them,” Williams wrote. “We’re less than 6 feet apart. Getting immune-suppressing drugs. Tiny baby Jesus.”

If rheumatoid arthritis and lupus patients in Oklahoma are not being forced to wear masks when visiting infusion centers, it is the direct result of laissez-faire governance. If an RA or lupus patient is “done with masks,” it is because she is being given insufficient or false information. In short, she is being gaslit.

On June 23, Oklahoma City-County Health Department released a graphic pointing out the “Serious Seven” situations that led to the surge — weddings, faith-based activities, bars, funerals, house gatherings, gyms and other small events — but these activities continue unabated.

Personal responsibility is not working in Oklahoma.

The only reasonable response to a lack of personal responsibility is to eliminate the offenders’ options regarding public health, but thanks to Trump and Stitt’s near-constant gaslighting, many Oklahomans’ perception of COVID-19 is that it is not as serious as medical experts say, or it is an outright myth.

And Oklahoma is doing nothing to disabuse these anti-maskers of their beliefs. Just days ago, Frye’s state Department of Health released an indefensible, irresponsible message at a time when COVID-19 numbers are rising. On its social media, the department posted a cheery message written in chalk, telling Oklahomans that “It’s going to be OK. #ChalkOutCovidOK #OklahomaStrong.”

That image was still posted as of June 24, when that same state health department reported a record 482 new cases.

“It’s going to be OK” is not what health officials should tell the public during a pandemic. This is feel-good propaganda that causes people to get sick and possibly die.

This is gaslighting.


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