Oklahoma's governor plans to start to reopening parts of the state's economy this week, even after a spike in new coronavirus cases in recent days. The state also ranks among the lowest in the nation for coronavirus testing.
Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, outlined his plan Wednesday to begin reopening the state in three phases. The first steps come Friday, when personal care businesses such as hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons and pet groomers can reopen only for appointments. State parks and outdoor recreation areas will open as well.
Gyms, restaurants, theaters, sports venues and places of worship can reopen May 1. Stitt said that all businesses must maintain social distancing and sanitation protocols.
If hospitalizations and cases remain "at a manageable level" for 14 days, sports activities and non-essential travel can resume on May 15, and bars could operate with limited occupancy, Stitt said.
The final phase would be expected to start June 1, with employers resuming their staffing without restrictions.
During these phases, people who are over 65 or especially vulnerable to virus will remain under stay-at-home guidelines, and visits to senior care facilities and hospitals will remain off-limits.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel and it's starting to get brighter every day as we continue to do testing and watch those curves flatten," Stitt said at a press conference.
As of Thursday afternoon, Oklahoma has reported 2,894 confirmed coronavirus cases and 170 deaths. Stitt said hospitalizations appeared to peak on March 30, and the state's coronavirus numbers have plateaued since then. But the state's health department reported a spike on Tuesday of 127 new confirmed cases — the largest one-day increase since April 9.
Dr. George Monks, the head of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Stitt's plan comes too soon and goes against White House guidance that states shouldn't start phases of reopening until they've seen a 14-day decline in new cases.
"We're far from that point," Monks told The Oklahoman, calling the governor's plans "hasty at best."
Some communities in Oklahoma will continue their stay-at-home policies even after Stitt's plans begin. Oklahoma City, the capital and largest city, will keep businesses closed at least through April 30.
An email sent to governors from the White House coronavirus task force this week showed that Oklahoma is in the bottom four states for testing capacity, along with Oregon, Montana and Maine. White House and public health officials have said widespread testing is key to any state's plans for reopening.