Tulsa ran out of Intensive Care Unit beds on Monday, and those were not just beds for people fighting for their lives against COVID-19. That was for everyone trying to stay alive in Oklahoma’s second-largest city.
This was two days after Oklahoma experienced its largest spike in coronavirus cases to date. The initial number of new cases reported on Nov. 7 was 4,717, but rather than instituting emergency protocols and mask mandates, Oklahoma State Department of Health interim commissioner Lance Frye seemed more concerned about reducing the statistic.
Frye was able to winnow that number down to 4,507 the next day and sent a press release that emphasized the elimination of duplicate cases, rather than the fact that new cases more than doubled over the previous day. Frye and his boss, Gov. Kevin Stitt, are now reduced to managing the level of their failure.
by George Lang, opinion writer for Free Press
From the beginning of the pandemic, Stitt and Frye preached the gospel of personal responsibility, refusing to mandate the wearing of masks in public. Even as Oklahoma’s case load reached a critical mass in which Oklahoma no longer has the beds it needs to care for the sick, Frye insists on not leading.
“I don’t think a mask mandate, first of all, is enforceable, but secondly, I’ve had multiple people come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I’ll wear a mask, but don’t tell me to wear a mask because then I’m not going to do it,’” Frye said during a Nov. 9 press conference.
Frye and Stitt are either afraid of the anti-maskers in this state, or they are following the “herd immunity” policy of the outgoing Trump Administration as it whines and wheezes its way into history. Considering that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is currently preparing an amicus brief in Donald Trump’s campaign to delegitimize the electoral process in Pennsylvania, it certainly feels like Oklahoma’s state government is doing whatever Trump wants as long as it can.
Frye insists that a mask mandate is not enforceable, but this is demonstrably wrong. Every day, I see police service technicians ticket cars parked around Myriad Botanical Gardens, because parking laws are enforceable, as are seatbelt laws. If the Norman Police Department can bust up an off-campus party and issue underage drinking citations, then police can issue mask violation tickets in entertainment districts, malls and business areas.
Restaurant employees and other workers in public businesses should have the government on their side when it comes to grown-ass adults who refuse to wear masks. In recent weeks, I have heard from people in the service industry who face these people every day.
Not long ago, a student who works part-time at a new restaurant in north Oklahoma City told me she tries to wear her mask at work, but entitled customers insist that she remove her mask because they allegedly cannot hear her speak through a thin layer of fabric.
As someone who has not eaten in a restaurant in eight months, I have a hard time fathoming the thought processes that lead someone to not only sit in a restaurant, but also insist that the waitstaff endanger themselves. This is what happens when the government relies on “personal responsibility” during a public health crisis.
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, whose parents both contracted coronavirus and were hospitalized, held a press conference on Tuesday calling for either Stitt or the legislature to mandate masks in Oklahoma. As someone with one degree of separation from COVID-19, Virgins words were forceful and unequivocal.
“The governor is running out of excuses for his failed leadership, and Oklahomans are dying as he does,” Virgin said.
Stitt is halfway through his term but has made enough bad decisions and mistakes to fill out eight normal years. As Virgin suggested, Stitt could make a decision today to enforce public health measures, but on a day when Oklahoma experienced 1,702 new cases, he will not do so.
In a fair and just state not dominated by an anti-government government, Stitt would be impeached for this abdication of leadership.
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