With major outbreaks of COVID-19 at Oklahoma prisons, including one in Muskogee County that led the county to be atop national lists for new cases, Democrats in the Oklahoma State House are asking Gov. Kevin Stitt to intervene and order testing for all Department of Corrections employees.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, today sent a letter on behalf of the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus urging Stitt to implement a regular testing program.
The letter cites recent outbreaks in three different state correctional facilities and highlights how infections in those facilities affect surrounding communities.
“To date, more than 1,350 inmates and 150 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19,” Virgin said. “This number does not reflect asymptomatic carriers who were not tested but are still contagious. The only way to stop asymptomatic DOC employees from unknowingly spreading the virus to inmates and their communities is by implementing a regular testing program.”
The state is not testing staff due to a legal interpretation that based on the actions of other states, Democrats feel is incorrect.
“We have learned that your administration has taken a stance that DOC cannot require employees to be tested,” Virgin said. “This position is without legal basis. Other states have already implemented staff testing programs to protect their communities. Oklahoma must follow suit.”
While the minority caucus understands that staffing levels are low, Democrats are pushing for safety to be the driving factor in the decision to test or not.
“This high rate, combined with understaffed facilities, creates a perfect storm for a crisis,” Virgin said. “We understand understaffed facilities and low pay for employees make it difficult to enforce a testing policy. We also understand that this pandemic doesn’t care about how badly the state has mismanaged its state agencies over the last decade.”