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With COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma rising and school starting next week, a group of parents and physicians are fighting back against Senate Bill 658, which bans mask mandates in schools. The group has filed suit against state of Oklahoma and Gov. Kevin Stitt, alleging that SB 658 is unconstitutional under state law.
The plaintiffs are the Oklahoma State Medical Association, along with parents across the state, including those whose children live with serious medical conditions and are at high-risk for COVID-19. The group is considering seeking temporary injunctive relief, as other states’ plaintiffs have successfully done so while challenging policies in court.
Senate Bill 658 states that school districts may not have mask mandates — unless Governor Stitt declares a state of emergency. As of last week, Governor Stitt’s office has confirmed that despite rising COVID-19 cases across Oklahoma, he remains unmoved, with no plans to declare a statewide emergency.
COVID cases increasing
Oklahoma is currently experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, straining hospital systems across the state. Hospital beds, including ICU care, are extremely limited, and health care workers are reaching their breaking point.
The state department of health reported over 14,000 new cases of COVID-19 this week, an increase of 23% over the previous week. Over 50 children are currently hospitalized with the virus.
Oklahoma currently has a high community spread of COVID in nearly every county, mostly due to the low vaccination rate across the state. Less than 40% of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated against the virus. While there are three vaccines with temporary emergency FDA approval, none are approved for children under 12.
Parents seek to protect students under 12
Meanwhile, parents are looking for ways to protect their young children against the virus, particularly the highly contagious Delta variant. “This virus is really tracking the unvaccinated,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Stanford University. “Because children under 12 are not able to be vaccinated, we’re just seeing the same increase in infections in that group because [the delta variant] is so infectious.”
The president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Dr. Mary Clarke, noted, “the science stands firmly behind vaccinations and masking as important tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19. As we are experiencing record numbers of children infected by the Delta variant and hospitals are stretched to capacity, we must do everything we can to keep Oklahoma’s children safe.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Public Schools recently announced they will defy the state ban and implement their own mask mandate.
Governor Stitt’s office has not yet commented on the pending litigation.