As COVID-19 cases surge, Oklahoma governor seeks visitors

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As new daily cases of the coronavirus have surged in Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt is starring in a promotional video encouraging people to visit.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported 4,970 new cases and 23 deaths. That brings the state’s totals to 260,838 cases and 2,212 deaths since the pandemic began.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say there were 1,081 new cases per 100,000 people in Oklahoma over the past two weeks, which ranks 12th in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 175 people in Oklahoma tested positive in the past week.

Stitt, who has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate, has taken a business-friendly approach to the pandemic.

The 30-second video starring Stitt has more than 100,000 views on YouTube. The video is also being promoted on digital and social media platforms in surrounding states, The Oklahoman reported.

“Today, we all need a place that offers hope,” Stitt says in the video. “Oklahoma is open to the challenge. We’re open with new, exciting places to explore safely. We’re open with amazing meals and safe surroundings. We’re open to living, learning and dreaming under wide open skies.”

The video was posted on YouTube on Nov. 19 — the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against traveling around the Thanksgiving holiday. An Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department spokeswoman says the ads will run through Dec. 30.

Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema tells the newspaper that the campaign is part of a comprehensive state strategy to support businesses affected by the pandemic.

“Keeping businesses open safely has been a priority of the governor throughout the state’s pandemic response and the campaign was in motion well before current travel guidance was increased,” Hannema said in a statement.

“We need people to continue to take precautions, but with the vaccination rollout starting, the light is at the end of the tunnel,” Hannema said. “This is the perfect opportunity to start considering a visit to Oklahoma and explore the great things our state has to offer when the time is right for them.”

Oklahoma last week received its initial allotment of about 40,000 vaccine doses, which will first go to frontline health care workers.

Health officials in the state have been pleading with residents to take precautions, and warn that pandemic is far from over.

On Friday, Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of health with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said that while it had been “a historic, yet emotional week” for health care workers, “we still have a long road ahead of us.”

“We’re seeing record highs of cases and we urge Oklahomans to keep doing their part to protect each other until we can all receive the vaccine in 2021,” he said.

The true number of infections in Oklahoma is likely higher because many haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness and be fatal.