Governor Stitt Criticized Over lack of Transparency in COVID-19 Response

The White House Coronavirus Task Force has been issuing weekly reports to governors containing specific data and recommendations for their individual states. These documents have not been made public by the White House, but the non-profit Center for Public Integrity has been obtaining them and publishing them.

The most recent one is dated August 16, 2020, which is the same day That Dr. Deborah Birx, Task Force Coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited Tulsa to hold a private roundtable discussion about the state’s response to COVID-19. The governor, his staff, and several elected officials were present. Tulsa Mayor, G.T. Bynum said that Stitt’s office denied Bynum’s request to have Tulsa County Health Department Director, Dr. Bruce Dart, present for the meeting.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt address his remarks during a roundtable discussion with Governors and small business owners on the reopening of America’s small businesses Thursday, June 18, 2020, in the State Dining Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The event was closed to the media, and the Governor’s office did not release any video or notes. A press release  was issued with two quotes from the governor and photos of the meeting. Birx left Tulsa after the meeting to finish her seven-state tour. Oklahoma was the only stop where Birx did not hold a press conference afterward.

After the roundtable, Governor Stitt told reporters that Birx offered no recommendations for Oklahoma. “She was very complimentary of our testing plan and what we’re doing with our universities,” read one of the quotes in the release on Sunday. “I had Secretary of Science and Innovation Elizabeth Pollard discussing our strategy, and Dr. Birx said she’s going to take that back with her and share some of it with the other states she is visiting.”

The Center for Public Integrity first published a White House Coronavirus Task Force document on July 16. Recommendations for Oklahoma included messaging campaigns to encourage mask use and to limit gatherings to 10 people. Certain localities, with higher case count, including Tulsa and Oklahoma City were to enact more stringent measures, such as closing bars and requiring masks. Local officials from those municipalities voiced their concerns that Stitt’s office did not share this information.

The August 16th report recommends, among other things, a state-wide mask mandate, and the closing of bars and restrictions on indoor dining in yellow and red counties, and metro areas. This report was also not shared with local officials or made public by the Governor’s office.

Many local officials around the state are upset that the Governor did not share the information from this latest report with them and are concerned that he is not implementing many of the recommendations set out in the report.

Friday, August 21st, Governor Stitt said he would make the White House Coronavirus reports public. The Oklahoman reported U.S. Representative Kendra Horn accused Stitt of hiding the task force’s recommendations.

The report can be found here:
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Charles Betzler

Charles Betzler

Long-time Sapulpa resident, Charles Betzler, followed his father, Charlie, into the radio and TV repair business. At age 9, he fixed his first broken radio and his first love is vintage audio equipment. In his 50 + years of technical work, graduation from OSUIT, and years of Continuing Education, Charles, in his capacity as Emergency Management Director of nearby city, designed the Emergency Operations Center, and the radio-activation system for the sirens. In his long career, he has repaired every type of consumer electronics from black-and-white TVs to the latest lap-top.