Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt listens to Commissioner of Health Lance Frye on a Zoom press conference call Wednesday, June 15, 2020. (Screenshot)

In what his detractors may call a dubious “Top-10” distinction, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has become the first governor in the United States to test positive for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Stitt announced his positive test result during a Zoom videoconference with reporters this morning.

For weeks, some Oklahomans have criticized Stitt when he and members of his administration have chosen not to wear face coverings, even as the CDC has strengthened its recommendation of their use.

“I got tested yesterday for COVID-19, and the results came back positive. I feel fine. I felt a little bit achy yesterday. I didn’t have a fever, but (I am) just a little bit achy,” Stitt said from home via Zoom. “I’m now isolating away from my family. I will be working from home until it is safe for me to get back to normal.”

Stitt becomes the most prominent American political figure to announce he has contracted the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro have all had the virus as well.

Stitt said he received his positive test results around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Stitt had attended President Donald Trump’s controversial rally in Tulsa on June 20, but Commissioner of Health Lance Frye said Stitt’s diagnosis came too late to be associated with the political event.

“It could be at any time over the last couple of weeks, but it was not as far back as the rallies,” Frye said.

Frye said contact tracing is underway to see who might be at risk for the virus owing to their interaction with the governor in recent days.

Mask mandates moving across state

For weeks, Stitt has repeatedly said Oklahomans have “done this better than any other state” regarding the novel coronavirus. But Stitt’s personal diagnosis with the respiratory virus coincides with a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases among Oklahomans. About 24 hours before Stitt’s announcement, the state set yet another daily record for new cases, with more than 900 reported Tuesday.

Even as municipal bodies have implemented new mask mandates, Stitt routinely has opposed requiring face coverings as a state. While he transitioned toward a personal endorsement of masks on June 30, Stitt has been photographed not wearing a mask while interacting with Oklahomans throughout much of July. As Stitt has received criticism for not wearing or mandating face masks, he has also asked Oklahomans not to be “mask shamers.”

The messaging has been poorly received by some. Oklahoma State Medical Association President Dr. George Monks implored Stitt and other officials to require masks at President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally in Tulsa.

Pressure has mounted. Rep. Jason Lowe (D-OKC) called Monday for Stitt to mandate masks, and towns from Altus to Stilwell have implemented their own versions over the past week. (Lowe recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year.)

Wednesday’s diagnosis announcement places the governor in an awkward position. Now a COVID-19 statistic himself, Stitt has not opposed mayors pushing stronger ordinances than his statewide position, but the nuance will likely matter little in the face of ironic infection.

The Tulsa City Council is expected to decide on a mask ordinance today, and the Oklahoma City Council could do the same before the end of the week.

Asked about a statewide mask mandate Wednesday, Stitt again expressed opposition.

“Not thinking about a mask mandate at all,” Stitt said, later adding that he questioned how mandates can be enforced.

Shortly after Stitt and Frye concluded their press conference, the Oklahoma State Department of Health released its latest COVID-19 statistical update, which showed 1,075 new cases, four new deaths and a slight increase in hospitalizations to 561.

Background on Kevin Stitt and COVID-19

Kevin Stitt COVID-19
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt waves to a packed House of Representatives ahead of his second State of the State address Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Michael Duncan)

Stitt, 47, is married with six children. Throughout his political career as a long-shot candidate and a reform-focused governor, Stitt has publicly appeared to be in good health. Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, Stitt was last photographed by media at the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office meeting on Tuesday morning.

Stitt had previously said he and members of his office have been tested multiple times for the novel coronavirus, with his results coming back negative. But one member of Stitt’s cabinet and a handful of people associated with the Oklahoma Legislature have survived the virus.

Secretary of Digital Transportation David Ostrowe contracted COVID-19 in late March, as did two members of the Oklahoma Legislature and a pair of staff members. Oklahoma has had more than 21,700 positive cases of COVID-19 over the past four months.

Stitt announcement ahead of political weekend

Stitt’s announcement Wednesday comes hours before the start of a major Oklahoma political weekend annually hosted by the Grand Lake Association at the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, the site of Oklahoma’s most affluent lake community about 90 minutes northeast of Tulsa.

Stitt said Wednesday he will not visit the weekend’s unofficial fundraisers and official retreats, which traditionally draw a bevy of politicians, powerbrokers and interest groups.

The Grand River Dam Authority — a state body tasked with generating electricity for communities in northeastern Oklahoma — has become heavily involved in the annual weekend, which features a golf tournament and other activities. GRDA CEO and President Dan Sullivan is paid $330,000 per year for running the state agency, more than twice the $147,000 annualized salary for Oklahoma’s governor.

(Update: This post was updated at 10:55 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 15, to include additional information.)

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