By Michael Kinney
When I pulled up to the Republic Paperboard Company in Lawton July 10, I was running a little late. Despite growing up in Law-ton, I had never been to the company before. With Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on hand to take a tour, I was rushing, trying to make sure I didn’t miss any-thing for a Ledger story I was going to write.
However, I took the time to grab two face masks as I exited the car.
As I approached the door, three members of Stitt’s security detail were congregating outside. They told me I had to put on a mask before I could enter. Even though they didn’t have a mask on themselves, I immediately I was cool. I was going to do it anyway.
Once inside, one other media member was waiting. She too had on a mask and a couple other members of the Republic staff who passed through also had donned their masks.
However, I was surprised a bit later when I saw Gov. Stitt, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, other members of the Governor’s staff, and upper management of Republic emerge from their meeting. Not a single person was wearing a mask. Somehow, I knew right then it was going to be an interesting day.
We walked through the paperboard factory for close to an hour with Stitt getting an up-close-and-personal view of how the machinery worked. Noise in the factory was very loud, and Stitt had to get face-to-face with people so he could hear what the factory management were saying. Because of this, social distancing was not in effect.
Even though I had on my mask for the entire time, I tried to maintain a safe distance from the governor and others. However, during the tour, one of the representatives from the Lawton business community, who I knew growing up, came up and spoke to me. He got in my face to talk, despite not having a mask on. Because I have had COVID-19 (and still suffer from long term symptoms), I try to limit the chances of getting it again. To say this unsettled me would be an understatement.
Of the close to 15 people on the tour, the thoughts of the pandemic and COVID-19 seemed to be an afterthought. The other media member even took off her mask when she conducted her interview with Stitt.
Coming away from the event, my prevailing thought was how no one there seemed to realize what was going on around them. It seemed to me as if the thousands of people who have been infected in Oklahoma were not real to them.
Over the weekend after the governor’s visit, I texted the friend whom I spoke to at the governor’s tour of Republic Paperboard. I voiced my concerns about him not wearing a mask when we spoke. I asked him when the last time was that he had taken a COVID-19 test. His response is indicative of how many people view the battle against COVID-19.
“We haven’t really done anything like that or been out in public like that, so I’m just not used to wearing it all time,” he said. “I have not been tested because I haven’t really been around any-one, and obviously, I’ve had zero symptoms and that’s to include my whole family.”
Wednesday when news broke that Gov. Stitt had tested positive for COVID-19, I wasn’t surprised. I was already on tap to take my fourth coronavirus test that afternoon. The previous two, which I had taken in June and July, had come back negative. I scheduled the fourth one because of what had taken place during the Stitt tour last week.
Hopefully, everyone else who was on hand will do the same.
Let me be clear: There is no evidence that Stitt contracted COVID-19 in Lawton. In fact, his office told Republic President Ray Howard that the governor’s contact tracing said he couldn’t have gotten before Saturday. Yet, he said during his announcement Wednesday that he didn’t know where or when he was infected.
But what this shows is how easily COVID-19 can hit and spread without warning. that it is time our leaders and the entire community, state and nation realize this virus doesn’t care who you are, how much money you have, where you live, or even if people call you Governor.
Story & Photo by Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media