OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As non-essential businesses across the state prepare to reopen in a matter of days, residents are also turning to local leaders to determine what happens next.
On Wednesday, Gov. Stitt announced his plan to reopen the state and non-essential businesses in three phases, with the first phase beginning on April 24.
Under the guidelines of the first phase of the plan, personal care businesses like hair salons and spas could open while following strict sanitation and social distancing rules.
Restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting venues could open to the public on May 1.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt was one of the first city leaders in the state to enact shelter-in-place orders and ordered Oklahoma City residents to stay at home as much as possible until April 30.
“We did what we had to do to save lives,” Holt said at a news conference on Friday.
Even though most people heeded those warnings, the metro area still suffered 54 deaths from COVID-19.
“No matter how much we try, we’re going to have new cases every day, and deaths will continue to occur as well,” Holt said, adding that the danger surrounding the virus won’t change until a vaccine is developed.
As several surrounding cities announced that they were immediately going to follow the governor’s recommendations, Holt says he had a choice to make.
“A patchwork of regulations across the metro is largely unworkable for any extended period of time, and the effectiveness of such an approach in limiting the spread would be almost nonexistent. Not being able to eat in a restaurant on one corner of an intersection, but being able to eat on another corner is not going to save lives. Also, as I have said from the beginning, in a free society, restrictions are largely self-enforcing and mixed messages make widespread buy-in almost impossible,” Holt said.
As a result, he says he will allow the shelter-in-place order to expire on April 30. He says that he will put another proclamation in place, but believes it will align with the governor’s beginning on May 1.
“We can’t shelter in place for two years straight,” he said.
Holt says that if it was only up to him, he wouldn’t have chosen May 1 as a date to open up.
However, he says that the city currently meets the White House criteria for reopening.
“I have very mixed emotions about this,” Holt said.
During the news conference, Mayor Holt became emotional, saying that he feels a great responsibility for all of the lives in Oklahoma City.
“I think this is the hardest speech I’ve given in this pandemic. But as I have thought about this, I recognized that I would always have mixed emotions because until there is a vaccine or treatment, there simply is no right answer. We could be standing here talking about June 1st or July 1st and I would feel almost the same. I am never going to stand here with a big smile on my face until the day we have a vaccine or a proven treatment. Until then, every new phase is an uncomfortable balancing act,” he said.
“I didn’t feel very good on March 17th either. I didn’t sign up to be the mayor who closed all the bars at 5 o’clock on St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “But even as I recognize that no new phase in our pandemic response is going to feel comfortable, I recognize we have to move out of shelter-in-place at some point.”
Holt says that even though the shelter-in-place order will expire on April 30, there will be requirements in place for businesses.
He says some of those requirements might include mandatory mask wearing for all employees and customers, social distancing is required, employees should still telecommute if possible, and no one should gather in groups larger than 10.
Holt stresses that May 1 is still a week away, and that he won’t hesitate to put another order in place if cases spike.