Kevin Stitt insisted that he had not changed his mind on issuing a statewide mandate for wearing masks. He said: ‘We respect people’s rights not to wear a mask.’ Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP
Stitt, 48, has backed one of the country’s most aggressive reopening plans, resisted any statewide mandate on masks and rarely wears one himself.
The first-term Republican governor said he mostly feels fine, although he started feeling “a little achey” on Tuesday and sought a test. He is isolating at home. He said his wife and children were also tested on Tuesday and that none of them have tested positive.
The number of US cases in the south and west has risen sharply since local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Across the country, new cases are now averaging about 60,000 a day.
Oklahoma reported a record case increase for the second day in a row on Wednesday, with 1,075 new cases, bringing its total to 22,813. Nationally, the total number of cases is nearing 3.5m, by far the highest number in the world, and more than than 138,000 people have died.
Announcing his condition on Wednesday, Stitt insisted that he had not changed his mind on issuing a statewide mandate for wearing masks.
“We respect people’s rights … to not wear a mask,” Stitt said during the news conference, which was held virtually. “You just open up a big can of worms.
“A lot of businesses are requiring it, and that’s fine. I’m just hesitant to mandate something that I think is problematic to enforce.”
Donald Trump, whose popularity in opinion polls is declining ahead of an election in November, has been reluctant to embrace mask-wearing, and most of his Republican governors and local officials have followed suit.
Stitt attended Trump’s rally in Tulsa last month, which health experts have said probably contributed to a surge in coronavirus cases there. Stitt said he was confident he didn’t contract the virus at the rally, that was attended by thousands of people, against the advice of health officials to not gather in large groups.
“As far as where he became infected, it’s really unknown,” the Oklahoma health commissioner, Dr Lance Frye, said. “It wasn’t so far back as the rally,” which took place nearly a month ago.
Since the Tulsa rally, coronavirus cases in the surrounding county have risen to over 5,200 – a 219% increase over the last four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis. Eight staff on Trump’s campaign tested positive around the time of that event.
Frye said contact tracing has begun in Stitt’s case, with a particular emphasis on determining those who may have been within 6ft of the governor for longer than 15 minutes.
In recent months, Stitt has attended numerous meetings and press conferences in which he was in close contact with people without wearing a mask. And he came under fire early in the pandemic after he tweeted a photo of himself and his children eating at a crowded restaurant.
One of Stitt’s cabinet members, David Ostrowe, tested positive for the coronavirus in March.
Stitt also attended a meeting earlier this month with the Tesla chief, Elon Musk, who is considering Tulsa as a possible site for the automaker’s new US assembly plant.
Stitt’s announcement came as Oklahoma reported a second consecutive day of record-high numbers of confirmed new virus cases, with 1,075, bringing the statewide total to more than 22,000. The previous daily high was 993 confirmed cases on Tuesday. Health officials also confirmed four additional Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 432.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations also are surging in Oklahoma, increasing from 458 last week to 561 on Wednesday, although Frye said there was still plenty of hospital capacity.
Dr George Monks, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Stitt’s diagnosis was an “unfortunate reminder that no one is safe from this rampant pandemic”.
“On behalf of Oklahoma’s physicians, we wish the governor a quick recovery and encourage all Oklahomans to take protective measures that can help slow the spread of coronavirus.”