tribal sovereignty oklahoma governor covid
FILE - In this April 20, 2020, file photo, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks in Oklahoma City. Stitt announced Tuesday, April 21, 2020, he reached a deal with two Native American tribes to increase the state's share of revenue from new casinos, but the governor still remains locked in a legal dispute over gambling with 10 other tribes. Stitt signed new 15-year gaming compacts with the Red Rock, Oklahoma-based Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the Lawton-based Comanche Nation. The compacts still must be ratified by the U.S. Department of the Interior. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki File)
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COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma officially topped one million on Wednesday as the state health department released new data. That number, equivalent to 25% of the state’s population, was almost unthinkable just two years ago.

Along with news of the shocking milestone came word that 86 more Oklahomans lost their lives to the virus. The state’s death toll now stands at over 13,750, while more than 1,600 people remain hospitalized.

Oklahoma’s per-capita case count remains higher than California or New York, both states Governor Stitt criticized in his State of the State address Monday.

Stitt condemned leaders across the country for taking action to slow the spread of the virus. The Governor, who at no point in his speech referenced COVID-19, the Oklahomans who perished or the healthcare workers fighting the disease, railed against “shutdowns” by Democrats.

However, Governor Stitt, a Republican, briefly closed businesses and schools statewide in 2020.

In addition to some of the highest transmission and death rates in the country, Oklahoma’s vaccination rates remain low.  The state is 39th overall in the amount of its citizens that have been fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates were once among the highest in the nation in early 2021 as tribal leaders expanded access.

Those rates have since plummeted. Governor Stitt, who has not advocated publicly for vaccinations in months, recently stated he would not receive his booster shot.

COVID fatigue and shifting public opinion causes restrictions to ease nationwide

As the state healthcare system reels from the latest wave of the pandemic, some remain hopeful the end of COVID is nearing. Experts, however, are warning Americans not to let their guard down.

“In the United States, we’ve normalized a very high death toll,” Anne Sosin, a public policy expert told CNBC. “Ironically, it’s prevented us from being able to return to any sort of ‘normal.’”

In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Leanna Wed cautioned about the growing divide between the advice of public health professionals and the actions of elected officials in managing the spread of COVID.

“It’s a serious problem when most of the country is actively defying C.D.C. recommendations,” said Wen. “Governors and local officials are seeing the sentiments of the people they’re serving. And public health has to meet people where they are.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...