4 minute read

Today’s community opinion is provided by Nick Singer, Executive Director of Oklahoma Progress Now.

As has been the case all pandemic long, Oklahoma leaders in the Stitt administration have denied the reality of our COVID situation. While any objective assessment of the US response to COVID would conclude we have utterly failed to protect our people, nearly two years later, we still pretend like we don’t understand how this virus works.

While the Omicron variant tears through Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt’s Secretary of Education Ryan Walters [feature photo], who is also running for State Superintendent, decided to weigh in on school closures by suggesting schools somehow had a choice in deciding whether to close or not.

Nick Singer
Nick Singer with Oklahoma Progress Now. (provided)

In Tweets and a subsequent clarifying interview, Walters made the case that districts simply aren’t trying hard enough to remain open in-person and are going virtual presumably because they are not bold or creative enough to stay in-person. This is both stupid and dangerous.

First, anyone with children in schools would know that we’ve been in-person all semester except when someone has been directly exposed to COVID. If a teacher is sick with COVID and cannot teach, they should of course, stay home. This has happened frequently to many of us throughout the fall when COVID cases were much, much lower.

While there is reason to be hopeful COVID outcomes are improving with each wave, the idea that we are fully out of the woods is dangerously mistaken. Also, even if COVID is no longer as much of a killer as it was, it still makes plenty of people sick enough they can’t stand in front of a classroom and teach all day (or work in whatever industry they are in).

To give folks an idea of context, the worst flu season in the last decade resulted in 4,840 hospitalizations and 293 deaths in 2017-2018. Plenty of schools have closed for flu outbreaks in Oklahoma before like this story from 2019. From 2020-2021, COVID caused more than 38,000 hospitalizations and 11,500 deaths. That means 7x as many hospitalizations and 39x as many deaths as the worst flu season in a decade, most were considerably less severe. You don’t need a degree in math or epidemiology to get the idea, COVID is much, much worse.

Now, Omicron is causing us to set daily COVID case records in a much shorter time frame. Obviously, even if the hospitalization rate is lower than before, there are still many, many people who will be too sick to work. Thus, schools have to cancel classes.

Just like businesses are being disrupted and events are being canceled, schools are not magically immune. Walters’ comments are idiotic but also cruel and dangerous. Nobody wants teachers in front of their kids if they are sick with COVID! The fact that Walters and Stitt can’t get this is wild. These are not the type of leaders we need in our state and certainly not educating our children.

Meanwhile, what is the Stitt administration doing to protect Oklahomans from the latest surge of COVID? Distract, blame and do nothing.

Oklahoma is a complete failure at public health.

Oklahomans lack access to effective PPE, like N95 masks. We struggle to make testing easily available anywhere in the state. Even getting the vaccine is more difficult and time-consuming than it should be for many families. Our children have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. These failures by the Stitt administration have directly resulted in our COVID death rate being many times other states and a hundred times more than the best countries. Thousands of Oklahomans have died that did not need to. As another surge happens, we can either learn from the past or we’re doomed to repeat it.

Singer has been a candidate for office and worked as an organizer, activist, consultant, lobbyist and volunteer for a range of progressive causes. He is based in OKC. 

Last Updated January 13, 2022, 12:17 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor