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Democrats criticize Oklahoma governor

In this Feb. 4, 2019 file photo, House Democratic Leader Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, answers a question during a news conference in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma House Democrats are criticizing Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt for his response to the coronavirus and calling for the creation of a bipartisan task force. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma House Democrats criticized Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday for failing to implement the recommendations of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and called for the creation of a state-level bipartisan task force.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Emily Virgin lambasted Stitt for failing to impose a statewide mask mandate and the closure of bars in areas with high transmission rates, both recommendations of the federal task force.

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“Our focus should be only on how to save lives, not how to get reelected,” Virgin, D-Norman, said during a press conference on the steps of the Capitol. “The worst thing you can do as a public official is to lose the confidence and trust of your constituents.

“Unfortunately, by hiding information from citizens and mischaracterizing recommendations from the White House, the governor has shown an unwillingness to be forthright and transparent about this pandemic, and that has resulted in the public feeling misled about the current situation and what actions they should be taking to mitigate risks.”

The governor has so far resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate and has deferred to local mayors and municipalities for decisions on business closures. A spokesman for Stitt criticized Virgin’s comments as an attempt to “politicize this pandemic.”

“The misguided comments made today are disrespectful to the dozens of state and local employees who have been working tirelessly for months to protect the health and lives of Oklahomans and coordinate the state’s comprehensive response to this virus,” said Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema. “The governor remains committed to keeping Oklahomans safe from COVID-19 but will not engage in attempts at partisan gamesmanship.”

The White House Coronavirus Task Force report, released by state officials on Wednesday, shows Oklahoma has the eighth-highest coronavirus positivity rate in the nation and 12th highest number of new cases per capita. Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties represent more than half of new cases in the last few weeks, but rural and urban communities continue to have increases in cases and test positivity rates, the report notes.

“Common sense preventative measures must be implemented to stop further spread,” the report says.

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