Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt defended reopening his state Sunday saying the state has passed its peak of hospitalizations and built up its health care capacity to adequately deal with the case load.
“You have to go back and think about why we closed down in the first place,” Stitt told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
I’ve issued 15 executive orders since March 15 when I first declared a state of emergency, but it was to build capacity in our hospitals to make sure we didn’t overrun our health care system. It was to build supply for [Personal Protective Equipment], and it was to flatten the curve. The facts in our state are, March 30 we peaked in hospitalization with 560 across the state. Today we have 300 across the state in our hospitals.
Stitt said he now believes its time for a “measured reopening,” with social distancing measures still in place to curb the virus spread.
Wallace pushed back noting that Oklahoma State Medical Association President Dr. George Monks reported the state had not seen the consecutive 14-day case decline in new infections as recommended in the nonbinding White House guidelines for entering Phase One of reopening. Stitt noted, however, that new cases and hospitalizations have continued to decline steadily.
“The facts are, we have been on a steady decline since March 30th in hospitalizations,” Stitt said.
The chart below from The New York Times shows that while the state has yet to see 14 straight days of decline, Oklahoma indeed is seeing new cases trend downward.
Oklahoma joins several other states that have begun to reopen, including Georgia, South Carolina, and Alaska after weeks of economically devastating shutdowns. Yet the decisions of the state’s Republican governors to lift lockdowns have met criticism from those arguing that governors should only do so when mass testing is made available or a vaccine is developed. That could take at least 18 months to several years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) criticized the governors’ reopening as “impatient,” on CNN’s “State of the Union” speculating that states reopening are likely to see a higher case load.
“Their impatience will help us get an even bigger number,” Pelosi said.
Meanwhile, governors and mayors across the country are resisting calls to reopen as millions of Americans end up out of work from the stay home orders implemented to combat an overwhelming case load that never came in their regions.
Boston’s mayor said it was too early to even think about reopening his city.
“At the end of the day it’s gonna come down to testing and data to see how we kind of get back to society here. There’s a lot of focus on it and I think it’s a conversation we’re having internally as well,” Mayor Marty Walsh said on CNN’s “New Day” last week.
Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, Ga., called his governor’s move to reopen “reckless, premature, and dangerous” until testing was ramped up. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said she doesn’t think any state or city can reopen safely until adequate testing and contract tracing can be produced.
Meanwhile in Virginia, the state’s health commissioner said Phase One of reopening could take up to two years before walking back his comments over the weekend. That would keep Virginia’s schools closed for the entirety of Virginia’s battle with the virus.
Politicians and public health officials condemning states for lifting lockdowns don’t have the same incentives to care about the economy as the newly unemployed small business owner forced down to the food pantry because the government has deemed his life’s work “non-essential.” The fact is, more than 26 million Americans are living this new reality as Pelosi touts blocking federal relief to sinking businesses in front of a $24,000 fridge stocked with $13 per pint ice cream.
The nation’s economy is collapsing, and fast. Economic activity is crucial to be able to pay for medical care and develop better coronavirus and other treatments. If state and local leaders wait for a vaccine to save them, which could take up to five years or even longer, there won’t be an economy left to open.
The Congressional Budget Office reported on Friday that the pandemic may destroy 40 percent of the American economy while quadrupling the annual federal budget deficit to $3.7 trillion. The United States is already nearing $25 trillion in debt and more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, with seemingly no way out as politicians for decades have cowered from making any effort to balance grossly mismanaged budgets.
Even as state leaders hedge their bets on testing, it’s still a risky proposition, and they’re gambling on the livlihoods of millions who are out of work and forgoing critical elective surgeries to make way for virus-stricken patients who aren’t materializing. As the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity Avik Roy points out in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, the United States is still likely years from reaching the testing capacity that many argue would enable states to safely open back up.
“To match the modestly high level of coronavirus testing for which South Korea has been praised, the U.S. would need to administer 7 million tests a week,” Roy wrote. “We’ll be fortunate if we reach half that number by September.”
Even Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House coronavirus task force, while acknowledging its importance, remarked earlier this month that states cannot expect to rely totally on testing to reopen.
“Testing is a part, an important part, of a multifaceted way that we are going to control and ultimately end this outbreak,” Fauci said. “But the emphasis that we’ve been hearing is essentially, ‘testing is everything,’ and it isn’t.”