By KEN MILLER Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma had the fifth-highest rate of newly reported coronavirus cases in the U.S. last week and the White House Coronavirus Task Force is again recommending a statewide mask mandate, according to a report released Wednesday by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The state had 142 new virus cases per 100,000 residents, compared to a national average of 72 per 100,000, according to the task force report, which is dated Sunday.
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The number of new cases declined slightly from the task force’s report last week, when Oklahoma was seeing 146 per 100,000 people and had the ninth-highest rate of new cases. After recommending a statewide mask requirement, the task force last week recommended that they only be required in urban areas and in counties where students and teachers had tested positive for the virus.
“Establish statewide mask mandate. COVID-19 is being brought into nursing homes through community transmission. Review and improve infection control practices at nursing homes to stop the introduction of COVID-19. Arkansas is a great example in the Heartland where statewide transmission has decreased through mask usage,” the report said.
Gov. Kevin Stitt has said repeatedly that he would not issue a statewide mandate and would instead rely on residents to adopt safe health practices that include wearing masks, socially distancing and frequently washing their hands.
The state health department on Wednesday reported 970 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 12 more deaths from the disease, raising the state’s totals since the pandemic began to 72,284 confirmed cases and 924 deaths. The actual number of cases is likely higher, though, because many people haven’t been tested and some people who have the disease don’t show symptoms.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City school board voted to begin returning children to classrooms part-time in mid-October through early November, depending on their grade,
Under the plan, kindergarten and pre-K students will get two days per week of in-person instruction and three days of virtual classes starting Oct. 19.
“These children are least familiar with a school setting and have some of the greatest challenges in a virtual setting, so this plan will give them a chance to acclimate before the rest of the students arrive,” Superintendent Sean McCasland said in a statement.
Half of the students will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half will do so on Thursdays and Fridays. All students will receive remote instruction on Wednesdays. Students will have their temperatures checked when they arrive at school each day, and will be encouraged to wear masks and to wash their hands often.
The district’s remaining students will begin returning under a similar plan starting Nov. 9. The district’s school year started on Aug. 31 with all virtual classes in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.