NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — More than a dozen students gathered outside the University of Oklahoma's administration building Thursday to protest what they say is an inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Students are violating the university and the city of Norman's mask mandates at bars, restaurants and at fraternity and sorority functions, OU student Kellie Dick, a senior from Shawnee, told The Associated Press.
“We really need people to wear their masks, I don't want this to kill any more people than it already has,” Dick said.
There are a reported 909 newly confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma on Thursday and 14 more deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The department reported 61,027 cases and 835 deaths, up from 60,118 confirmed cases and 821 deaths on Wednesday. The actual number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
The students presented a list of 12 demands that include online classes for most subjects, twice-weekly free coronavirus testing for OU students, faculty and staff and limit and adopt a policy prohibiting social gatherings of more than 25 people.
University chief COVID officer Dr. Dale Bratzler earlier Thursday told the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education that there are no known transmissions of the virus in classrooms, but that the virus spread occurs in areas OU cannot control.
“Our biggest challenge is we can’t mandate a mask when a person is in their residence hall and so that means that there may be students obviously in their room with roommates where they’re not masked," Bratzler said. “And then, you don't have to look very far on social media to find pictures of people without masks when they're off campus ... that's plagued us.”
The director of university health services at Oklahoma State University, Chris Barlow, said OSU faces similar problems, with students wearing masks while on campus, but shedding them when they leave.
“We’re finding a lot of students that are testing positive overall are off-campus, that seems the largest concentration that we have right now is with off-campus populations,” Barlow told the regents, who oversee all colleges and universities in the state.
OU reported 135 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday while Oklahoma State, which updates its numbers weekly, reported 279 virus cases as of Sunday.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
The task force’s Aug. 30 report, released Wednesday by the health department, also calls for closing bars and limiting the number of people allowed inside restaurants.
Miller reported from Oklahoma City.