By Andrew Hay and Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt said on Wednesday he had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the first time a U.S. state governor has announced they were infected.
The number of U.S. cases has spiked, particularly in the south and west, since local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. New cases are now averaging around 60,000 a day.
Oklahoma reported a record case increase for the second day in a row on Wednesday, with 1,075 new cases, bringing its total to 22,813. The total number of cases nationally is nearing 3.5 million, by far the highest number in the world.
Stitt had faced a backlash in recent days after posting on Twitter a picture of himself and two of his children at a crowded restaurant, even as state health authorities urged social distancing to slow the outbreak.
“I got tested yesterday for COVID-19 and the results came back positive,” Stitt said in a video conference call with reporters. “I feel fine, really, I mean you might say I’m asymptomatic or just slightly kind of a little bit achy.”
Stitt was at a rally held by U.S. President Donald Trump in Tulsa on June 20 that was attended by thousands of people, most of them not wearing masks, against the advice of health officials to not gather in large groups.
The first-term Republican governor said he had worked with contact tracers on when his symptoms developed and they believed he would not have been contagious before Saturday.
Although Stitt encourages Oklahomans to wear face masks, he rarely wears one in public himself and, unlike some other governors, has not issued a statewide mask mandate.
Trump, another Republican, has also been reluctant to embrace masks.
Since the Tulsa rally, coronavirus cases in the surrounding county have risen to over 5,200 – a 219% increase over the last four weeks, according to a Reuters analysis.
Eight staff members of Trump’s campaign tested positive around the time of that event.
Several U.S. officials have tested positive for the virus, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Louisiana’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, canceled a meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday after testing positive. Landry said he had no symptoms and was taking medication prescribed by his doctor.
Florida, which has become an epicenter of the new outbreak, on Wednesday reported another 10,000 new cases, putting the state’s total cases at over 300,000. It also reported 112 new deaths, down from the record of 133 reported on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot criticized young people in the third largest U.S. city for not taking the pandemic seriously enough, citing data showing an increase in cases among people from the ages of 18 to 29.
“Some of you have joked that I’m like the mom who will turn the car around when you’re acting up. No, friends, it’s actually worse. I won’t just turn the car around. I’m going to shut it off. I’m going to kick you out and I’m going to make you walk home,” Lightfoot told a news conference.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)