Oklahoma leaders getting advice from the White House Coronavirus Task Force Sunday as coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx stopped in Owasso and Tulsa to discuss the state's COVID-19 response.
Oklahoma is one of six states Birx is visiting to provide guidance in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
"We got to continue to be vigilant and continue to social distance especially as schools are coming back,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said. “That's the big thing we were talking about: To make sure we don’t see an outbreak like they had in some of the other states.”
Birx met with a group of less than two dozen people in a small roundtable in Tulsa including Stitt, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and state school superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Stitt said Birx praised the state on its testing response and gave no specific recommendations. Stitt also said the conversation centered around Oklahoma’s COVID-19 response, testing strategies regarding college and K-12 school settings and data trends from other states.
Bynum said Birx also did a presentation for the group showing national trends.
"She said in traveling all over the country, that she has not seen anywhere an instance where the governor or mayor or city put in place a mask mandate that you didn't see two weeks later a decrease in cases. We've seen that here in Tulsa,” Bynum said. "My hope would be that would be the kind of statistic that would raise the attention of other communities around the state as they consider ways to slow the spread of this virus."
Before the meeting in Tulsa, Birx also met with health providers at Baptist Village of Owasso.
Dr. Bill Pierce is the president of all 12 Baptist Village Communities across the state. He spoke with Birx about challenges in long-term care facilities. Pierce is concerned with the state's reopening plan that could endanger nursing homes.
"She came to get a direct perspective of a provider and how we are today taking care of people families and residents and employees in this pandemic for over five months," Birx said.
Pierce said Birx's advice for Oklahoma nursing homes is more random testing on employees.
"Testing is a very important part of the federal government’s plan in nursing homes going forward,” Pierce said. “They believe that asymptomatic people bring COVID(-19) into health centers and that we need to do surveillance testing of those employees in the future.”
Officials at the Tulsa meeting said Birx also addressed the rise in cases in the southern United States. Oklahoma could see a similar trend in four to six weeks.
"Even though we’re in a good spot and we’re seeing kind of a downward trend, she kind of reminded me that this thing can happen really, really quickly,” Stitt said. “We can see some spikes really quickly, so we have to continue to monitor that.”
Birx declined to speak to the media on Sunday. Bynum said that Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department was not at the roundtable due to the limited space availability.