Oklahoma Governor Declares Day of Prayer Amid COVID Pandemic, but No Mask Mandate

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt declared a day of prayer and fasting for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic but has refused to issue a mask mandate, despite pleas from state Democrats and medical officials.

The Republican governor said Monday that Oklahomans "must continue to ask God to heal those who are sick, comfort those who are hurting and provide renewed strength and wisdom to all who are managing the effects of COVID-19."

The day of prayer will take place on Thursday, and Stitt called on Oklahomans of "all faiths and religious backgrounds to join together."

The governor also asked churches and houses of worship to take precautions to contain the virus's spread and to provide hope to those struggling amid the pandemic.

"I believe our churches and faith communities have an incredible opportunity during this season to provide hope to Oklahomans who are struggling as we close a year that has been mentally, emotionally and physically draining," Stitt said in a press release. "It's important that we continue to find safe ways to gather as we all do our part to protect our families, neighbors and communities from this virus."

The announcement comes as Stitt remains opposed to a statewide mask mandate, while House Democrats and health care workers across the state urge him to issue one.

"As far as a mandate, I've been very clear that I don't think that's the right thing to do. This is a personal responsibility. This is pleading with people to do the right thing," Stitt said during a November 10 news conference.

Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks during a roundtable at the White House on June 18. On Monday, Stitt announced a day of prayer and fasting for those affected by the coronavirus crisis but said he will not issue a mask mandate. Alex Wong/Getty

Though Stitt has encouraged Oklahomans to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public, he wants any decision on a mask mandate left up to municipalities.

But medical officials, including the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) and leading health experts from Oklahoma University's College of Medicine and Integris Health, a state-owned health care system, have urged people to wear masks.

"Oklahomans help Oklahomans, and right now, that means wearing a mask. I tell you this in all sincerity, Oklahoma. We are in trouble. Our local and state health care resources are approaching their limits," Integris Chief Medical Officer Julie Watson said on November 10.

A month earlier, OSMA President George Monks tweeted that "we need face mask mandates to protect more of our Oklahoma citizens."

Cities in Oklahoma that have adopted mask ordinances, have seen lower rates of infection. We need face mask mandates to protect more of our Oklahoma citizens. #COVID19 #Oklahoma #gotmaskok https://t.co/FS8Y5M4new

— George Monks (@GeorgeMonks11) October 18, 2020

During the November 10 news conference, House Democrats joined health care workers in asking Stitt to issue a mask mandate.

"Governor Stitt says he's asking Oklahomans to do the right thing and protect each other. Well, governor, we're asking you to do the right thing. Protect Oklahomans by enacting a statewide mask order," Democratic House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said during the news conference.

As of December 1, Oklahoma has had at least 197,745 cases and 1,743 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

The past week has seen an average of 2,839 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from the average just two weeks earlier.

In response to the governor's prayer announcement, Virgin tweeted that she hopes "our government leaders find the courage and wisdom to do more" to curb the spread of the virus.

"I pray every day for Oklahomans who are fighting COVID and for the medical professionals treating them. I also pray every day that our government leaders find the courage and wisdom to do more to save lives and slow the spread of this awful virus," she wrote.

Newsweek reached out to the state's House Democrats and Stitt for additional comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.