Oklahoma governor lifts COVID-19 restrictions on events and mask-wearing in state buildings

Kevin stitt
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt Alonzo Adams/AP
  • Oklahoma is lifting all COVID-19 related restrictions on events, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced.
  • “There will be no statewide restrictions on events, or Oklahomans,” Stitt said Thursday.
  • The Sooner State is the latest to significantly roll back COVID-19 restrictions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Oklahoma is lifting all COVID-19 related restrictions on events, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on Thursday.

The Sooner State is the latest state to significantly roll back COVID-19 restrictions as vaccinations in the US ramp up, joining Texas and Mississippi in lifting all restrictions on gathering in groups and wearing masks.

“Because of the progress we have made, I will be issuing a new executive order tomorrow. There will be no statewide restrictions on events, or Oklahomans,” Stitt said in a Thursday press conference, according to ABC affiliate KOCO 5. “I’m also removing the requirements to wear a mask in state buildings. More Oklahomans are getting vaccines each day, and the CDC’s new guidelines mean wearing a mask should be a personal decision based on your circumstances,”

Oklahoma is seeing a seven-day average of 643 new COVID-19 per day cases as of March 10, a 13% decline over the past 14 days, according to The New York Times.

So far, 21% of Oklahomans have received at least one vaccine dose with 12% of the population fully vaccinated, according to Wednesday data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Oklahoma had already rolled back many restrictions in June 2020, Stitt’s new executive order loosens previous regulations on gatherings. Those rules limited attendance at youth sports games and other public gatherings, like weddings, to 50% capacity, required restaurants to seat patrons six feet apart, and mandated masks in public state buildings.

Oklahoma didn’t have a statewide mask mandate but Thursday’s announcement means visitors and employees at state government buildings, who were earlier required to wear face coverings on the premises, no longer have to.

“The standard for normal cannot be zero cases. In Oklahoma, the standard for normal is freedom,” Stitt said at the press conference. The freedom to worship, the freedom to go to work and earn a paycheck, the freedom to visit your loved ones in nursing homes, the freedom to send your kids to school in person, and the freedom to protect your family however you see fit.”

Nationwide, a six-week decline in cases has largely leveled off, while hospitalizations and deaths have continued to decrease.

An increasing number of states are moving to roll back or completely phase out COVID-19-related regulations due to the decrease in cases and the ramped-up pace of vaccinations. Still, public health experts warn that with more than 50,000 daily new cases and the increasing presence of variants, states shouldn’t move too fast and risk losing the progress they’ve made.

On March 2, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would allow Texas business to reopen 100% and lift the state’s mask mandate effective March 10. He was shortly followed by Mississippi’s Gov. Tate Reeves.

“These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling … with these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public-health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a March 1 briefing of the White House’s COVID-19 task force.

“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said, adding that “now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

President Joe Biden criticized Texas’ and Mississippi’s lifting of mask mandates as “Neanderthal thinking,” warning that the move could backfire.

“I hope everyone’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden said on March 3. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime everything’s fine, take off your mask – forget it. It still matters.”