OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt said Monday that one of his goals while combating COVID-19 is ensuring all Oklahoma students return to in-person learning by the end of the Christmas break.

He said the Centers for Disease Control has found that not being in school is significantly impacting the mental health of the nation’s youth.

“As a father, that breaks my heart,” he said, adding while he strongly believes students should return to traditional class settings, he cannot mandate that because he believes in local control, meaning local school boards must make that decision.

Stitt said while more than 90 percent of the state’s school districts have traditional classes “in some format,” there are some schools — such as Tulsa Public Schools — that are offering classes in virtual format only. Most schools offer in-person classes as the full-time option, or in conjunction with virtual classes.

“Tulsa has not been back in school this year,” Stitt said, adding those students have been out of the classroom since March, when the Oklahoma State Department of Education directed that school campuses would remain closed after Spring Break.

Stitt said while he can’t demand school districts return to offering traditional classes, he can urge parents to urge their districts to take that step, adding “I believe every kid needs to be in school.”

Other news from Monday’s press conference:

• Stitt said he believes a vaccine is on its way and “we all need to buckle down until then.” He said he anticipates the first batch of vaccine designated for Oklahoma would be used on first responders and health care workers.

• Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Lance Frye said he looks daily at data on COVID-19 patient clusters compiled by health care professionals, he hasn’t seen anything to indicate there is an “institutional increase” causing cases to increase. “It is community spread,” he said, about Oklahoma’s increasing numbers.

• Frye said while Oklahoma hospitals have begun to see some patients hospitalized with the flu, those incidents have been minimal.

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