OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma does not need a mask mandate to combat rising COVID-19 case numbers, the state’s top health official said Monday.
Dr. Lance Frye, the interim commissioner of health, said he recommends “mask compliance” — or voluntarily wearing face coverings to slow the spread — but doesn’t believe a mask mandate is enforceable.
“Everyone should wear a mask,” he said. “It’s a personal responsibility. It’s a social responsibility, and everyone needs to do it. I don’t think a mandate is going to help that situation, but I think everyone should wear one.”
Nationally, President-elect Joe Biden urged Americans Monday to wear masks. He said Americans need to separate politics from the coronavirus.
“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months,” he said. “Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives. Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”
Oklahoma leaders, meanwhile, said they were monitoring climbing case numbers, but continued to insist the onus to stop the spread is on Oklahomans taking individual responsibility.
State health officials reported a record-setting 4,507 new cases over the weekend and another 2,197 new confirmed positives on Monday. Hospitalizations were at 1,045 and total deaths climbed to 1,444.
“We all need to do our part to slow the spread,” Frye said.
He said health officials are meeting multiple times a week with the Governor’s Office and looking at the metrics closely.
“There’s nothing off the table,” he said. “They’re looking at all of them (options).”
Frye said some options on the table include limiting large gatherings, limiting indoor sporting events or banning spectators.
Dr. Jared Taylor, the state’s epidemiologist, said mandating face masks is a political decision and not one for him to make. The same goes for decisions that potentially involve shutting down bars or disrupting houses of worship.
In a statement over the weekend, Gov. Kevin Stitt said it is clear that the virus continues to spread through rural and urban communities, but he stopped short of mandating any changes to slow the spread.
“Throughout the history of our state, Oklahomans have taken pride in caring for our neighbors during times of trouble,” he said. “Now, more than ever, I am asking each Oklahoman to do the right thing and protect their families, neighbors and those who are most vulnerable.
“Keep washing your hands frequently, watch your distance from others, and wear a mask when social distancing isn’t possible or visiting indoor public places,” Stitt said. “You have heard me say these things before, but we need everyone to take these actions seriously. They work.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.