Gov. Kevin Stitt

Calling it a “important step forward,” Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday said he would sign off on the release of more than 500 inmates from prison, the largest single-day release of prisoners in U.S. history. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

On the same day Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a statewide day of prayer for Oklahomans affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, he also amended his “essential businesses” order, drastically increasing the number of businesses that can stay open during the pandemic.

The amended order greatly increased the number of essential businesses that can stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Stitt’s initial business order called for a number of health care and law enforcement, public safety and first responders to stay at work throughout, as well as “other community-based government operations and essential functions.” Those included things like “faith-based services” that stream services, and childcare workers.

On Wednesday afternoon, Stitt issued an amended executive memorandum that added more than 100 essential businesses in groups like “food and agriculture,” “energy,” “water and wastewater,” “transportation and logistics,” “public works,” “communications and information technology,” “critical manufacturing,” “financial services,” “chemical,” “commercial and professional services” and “defense industrial base.”

On Tuesday Stitt issued a “safer at home” order for counties in the state with at least one coronavirus case. The order calls for counties to be added to the order as cases appear in their boundaries. On Tuesday that meant 19 counties fell under the governor’s guidance. That number rose to 27 on Wednesday morning.

Stitt’s six-page order appears to be aimed at clearing up confusion caused by Tuesday’s somewhat vague order. Many Oklahomans questioned which jobs and employees were considered to be essential. Some examples of businesses now listed as essential include “beverage and tobacco product manufacturing,” “tag agencies,” “construction workers,” and even “public and private golf courses.”

The full order, containing a description of all essential business, is linked below:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance on what businesses should be considered essential. Stitt’s six-page order states that along with what the federal agency recommended, dozens of other businesses would also be considered essential.

On Wednesday morning Stitt’s office put out an invitation on social media for other businesses that were currently considered nonessential to fill out an application to be considered essential.

Baylee Lakey, a spokeswoman for Stitt, said as of Wednesday afternoon the office had yet to receive any applications. Lakey said the Oklahoma Department of Commerce will take the lead in determining which businesses are essential.

Over the last two weeks, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have continued to increase in Oklahoma, according to the state health department. There were 164 known cases of the virus on Wednesday morning, up 55 from the day before. The department announced two additional deaths in Oklahoma City, bringing the state total to five. As of Wednesday morning, 59 people were hospitalized.

More than a dozen medical organizations, including the Oklahoma Hospital Association, urged Stitt in a letter on Monday to issue a state-wide shelter in place order.

Some medical professionals said though Stitt’s order was a step in the right direction, but still not enough.

Stitt also called for a statewide day of prayer on Thursday, as well as a live broadcasted event that evening on News 9 in Oklahoma City and News On 6 in Tulsa at 6:30 p.m.

“I believe this is an uncertain or anxious time for many Oklahomans right now,” Stitt said in an emailed release. “This is why I believe it is important we join together as a state and pray for God’s blessing, protection and strength as we face a challenge that is unprecedented in its scope.”

Thursday’s event is set to be hosted by Transformation Church Pastor Michael Todd, and will feature a number of other faith leaders from across the state.

“Prayer is not our last resort, but our first response,” Todd said in the release. “We believe our faith is more important now than it has ever been.”

 

The Frontier is a nonprofit focusing on investigative and watchdog journalism. For more information or to donate, go to www.readfrontier.org.

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