Parents, physicians sue over Oklahoma mask mandate ban

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Parents of schoolchildren joined the Oklahoma State Medical Association on Thursday in filing a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law banning mask requirements in public schools.

“This is not a political stance; it is about public health and common sense,” medical association President Dr. Mary Clarke said in a statement. “If schools can send students home for a lice infection, they should have the latitude and ability to issue a mask mandate.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this year signed the law prohibiting public schools, technology centers, and colleges and universities from requiring vaccinations or masks unless the state has declared an emergency.

A spokesperson for Stitt declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

Stitt has said he sees no reason for an emergency declaration that would allow schools to issue mask mandates and has not commented on calls for a special session to overturn the law.

Clarke said the goal is to protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff.

“The science stands firmly behind vaccinations and masking as important tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19,” Clarke wrote. “We must do everything we can to keep Oklahoma’s children safe.”

The lawsuit comes a day after the Tulsa school board voted to allow its attorneys to join any litigation challenging the law and the Santa Fe South public charter school in Oklahoma City announced an indoor mask mandate for students and staff despite the law.

The state health department on Thursday reported the number of virus-related hospitalizations in Oklahoma neared 1,300, and the state health commissioner said most of those are unvaccinated.

“We are seeing a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and trends, due largely to the more contagious delta variant, which is overwhelmingly impacting unvaccinated Oklahomans,” Dr. Lance Frye said in a statement urging those eligible to vaccinate.

“We also know the vast majority of Oklahomans who are hospitalized and dying of COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated,” Frye said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 41.1% of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated, compared to 49.9% nationwide.

There were 1,299 people hospitalized, including 351 in intensive care, the health department reported.

The department reported 2,468 new virus cases and a seven-day rolling average of 2,049 new cases daily, up from 1,235.9 on July 27.

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