Hospital capacity continues to shrink across the state as COVID-19 numbers escalate, the consequence of a decision made months ago to manage the COVID-19 pandemic as a political issue rather than a public health crisis,

This situation has become untenable as hospital beds fill up and staffing shortages stack up due to quarantine orders for health care workers or family members whose lives have been touched by the coronavirus. A new hospital surge order implemented by Gov. Kevin Stitt late last month threatens economic harm to hospitals that could be forced to end elective procedures should hospitalization rates continue to climb. 

Those who have disregarded the serious nature of the situation must know of the economic harm that would ripple through the state economy should that come to pass. Elective medical procedures were taken off the table earlier this year when there were far fewer cases and much more federal aid was flowing. 

The White House Coronavirus Task Force reports Oklahoma hospitals admitted, on average, 196 COVID-19 patients and 88 patients under investigation this past week for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. An average of more than 95% of the hospitals in the state reported new admissions on a daily basis between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6. 

That task force, the reports of which were kept secret for weeks until they were leaked by The Center for Public Integrity, recommended in its most recent report "immediate action" to mitigate "the unyielding COVID spread across Oklahoma." The task force's recommended action, published Sunday in its most recent report, included "mask requirements to decrease severity in morbidity and mortality among Oklahomans."

An epidemiology report published weekly by the Oklahoma State Department of Health includes statistics that show mask mandates significantly reduced the number of new COVID-19 cases where they have been implemented.  

Dr. Jared Taylor, the state's epidemiologist described mask mandates as "a political decision" only hours after the White House task force recommendations were published. And the governor has been unwilling to make that call regardless of its impact on the lives and livelihoods of Oklahomans. 

The governor has ignored the recommendations of the White House Coronavirus Task Force far too long, listening instead to a president who admitted he "always wanted to play down" the severity of this pandemic. He has insisted for months that Oklahomans voluntarily wash their hands, keep their distance, and wear a mask when that is not possible. 

That has proven to be a failed approach. We urge the governor to heed his own advice and "do the right thing" and protect Oklahomans rather than his political life. 

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