We're not out of the woods yet, so those who are throwing caution to the wind and discarding protocols aimed at protecting themselves and others are making a mistake.
When it comes to COVID-19, Oklahoma's numbers are comparatively low, but that doesn't mean the pandemic has evaporated. Cherokee County has been especially fortunate, although in recent days, a dozen more cases have popped up. State numbers are rising, too, albeit not as quickly as in some other areas. In Arizona, spikes have prompted calls for the declaration of a state of emergency. And in Arkansas, health officials are calling their situation a "serious public health emergency."
The crisis is most acute in northwest Arkansas, which leads the state in total confirmed cases - with Fayetteville as a focal point. According to the Washington Regional Medical System, that area has marked a 170 percent increase in COVID tests performed at clinics over the past week. There's been a 156 percent increase in calls to the hotline, and a 350 percent increase in number of hospitalizations. Birch G. Wright, Washington Regional's CEO, says the uptick is not due to more testing; it's because more people are being infected.
Fayetteville is only 60 miles from Tahlequah. Does anyone believe cross-contamination between these two areas is out of the realm of possibility? Unfortunately, the answer is "yes." There are still people in pockets of Cherokee County who are convinced COVID-19 is a hoax. Some continue to insist Bill Gates created the virus to sell his vaccine - which even if true, is beside the point. On the Daily Press Facebook timeline, links to updates from the Oklahoma State Department of Health are provided. Though statistics are editorially neutral, several followers grouse that not enough attention is given to recoveries, as opposed to new cases. One went so far as to ask the TDP to put "a positive spin" on things. The job of a newspaper is not to put any type of "spin" on material, but to present it dispassionately so readers may benefit from information. Those who say the media are trying to create a panic about COVID-19 - and thereby "shut down" the economy - are displaying an alarming degree of ignorance. Few industries have been hurt more than print media due to businesses - advertisers - shuttered by the pandemic.
Gov. Kevin Stitt is, indeed, trying to put a positive spin on the situation. And it could be argued that as the state's chief PR agent, boosting morale is part of his job. But his words stand in stark contrast to those of Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum - another Republican, by the way - who took a cautionary tone on the upcoming campaign rally of President Trump. Trump's handlers have said he doesn't want a venue where social distancing would make the crowd appear smaller, nor does he want a venue full of people wearing masks. The president - a far more savvy marketer than Stitt - probably assumes either scenario would have a negative PR impact. Remember, Trump was among the first out of the gate with the "hoax" claim. He's since walked that back, but apparently feels Oklahoma's infection rate poses an acceptable risk for him and his fans.
Health experts warn that Oklahomans should prepare for another surge. Some add COVID-19 is something we'll have to learn to live with. But that doesn't mean the state is getting back to "normal" anytime soon. We should all work to limit our potential exposure, and if we do believe we've been exposed, we should let those around us know about that as soon as possible.