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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks at the Capitol, as Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent of Public Instruction Guidance, looks on as Oklahoma government officials have a press conference to discuss the state’s response to the Covid-19 Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman via AP)

Published 03/16/2020 | Reading Time 1 min 54 sec 

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s governor declared a statewide emergency Sunday evening, less than 24 hours after facing backlash for tweeting a picture of himself and two of his children at a crowded restaurant as health officials urged social distancing to keep the new coronavirus from spreading.

The emergency declaration unlocks additional funding for health agencies and hospitals to fight COVID-19, plus loans for small businesses affected by the pandemic, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said.

“Life as we know it will change for a little while, but it doesn’t’ have to shut down completely,” Stitt said Sunday, adding that people should still look for ways to support local businesses.

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In the since-deleted tweet, Stitt wrote Saturday night: “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at the @CollectiveOKC. It’s packed tonight!” Stitt was at a food hall in Oklahoma City.

Events and gatherings across the country have been canceled as a precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Stitt’s position has not changed from instructions he previously gave to Oklahoma residents, Charlie Hannema, a spokesman for the governor, said Sunday. Those include to follow health precautions and protect elderly and vulnerable populations but also to remain calm, live one’s life and support local businesses.

“The governor will continue to take his family out to dinner and to the grocery store without living in fear and encourages Oklahomans to do the same,” Hannema said in an email.

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Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt also caught flack for tweeting Saturday from a local restaurant. On Sunday, Holt declared a state of emergency in the city just ahead of Stitt’s action, temporarily banning large gatherings in city-owned facilities by revoking their special event permits. The mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second-largest city, enforced a similar ban starting Saturday.

“Today is different than yesterday. Yesterday was different than the day before,” Holt said. “I am fully aware of the gravity of the moment. But this is the time to protect the people of Oklahoma City.”

Oklahoma City also will temporarily stop cutting off water service for non-payment, similar to what other cities including Detroit and Phoenix are doing until COVID-19 is under control.

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The vast majority of people who contract the coronavirus recover within weeks. It causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

At least seven people in Oklahoma have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the State Department of Health. The first case in Oklahoma County was reported late Friday, a woman in her 60s who recently traveled to Florida. Those numbers do not include two players with the Utah Jazz basketball team who tested positive in Oklahoma last week before returning to Utah.

By AP writer Sean Murphy; writer Adam Kealoha Causey in Dallas contributed to this report. 

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