House of Representatives

House Dems Letter to Gov. Stitt Regarding DOC COVID Testing Policy


9/10/2020 3:04:00 PM

OKLAHOMA HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS


2300 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Oklahoma City, OK 73105

(405) 557-7323

emily.virgin@okhouse.gov

Sept 10, 2020

Governor Kevin Stitt, 

This letter is to request expanded COVID testing throughout the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and require that all DOC employees be tested regularly.

While your administration has made statements labeling prison outbreaks as isolated events that do not affect the rest of the state, DOC employees are continuing to work in highly contagious environments and then returning to their communities without being tested. Additionally, DOC has a responsibility to protect the inmates in state custody. 

To date, more than 1,350 inmates and 150 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. 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.

In discussions with DOC staff and stakeholders in the corrections community, we have learned that your administration has taken a stance that DOC cannot require employees to be tested. This position is without legal basis. Other states have already implemented staff testing programs to protect their communities. Oklahoma must follow suit. 

As has been published and written about numerous times, we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. This high rate, combined with understaffed facilities, creates a perfect storm for a crisis. 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.

Our caucus is calling on you to do whatever is necessary to protect our communities. Whether it is using CARES Act funds, asking for additional federal funds, or mobilizing the Oklahoma National Guard to augment DOC workers, we must mitigate community spread inside and outside our prisons. We stand ready to work with you to stop additional outbreaks and protect Oklahoma.

Sincerely,