By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – On Wednesday (April 22), Gov. Stitt released the Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS) plan. A press conference was held to announce the three phases of his plan to reopen Oklahoma businesses. Health policy leaders, business advocates and local officials responded with diverse ranges of caution or support.
According to the governor, Oklahoma is flattening the curve on COVID-19 cases.
Phase 1, beginning April 24, Oklahomans 65 and older are to continue the safer-at-home guidelines, maximize social distancing from others when in public, and minimize non-essential travel.
As of Friday, the following businesses can reopen for appointments only and must adhere to sanitation protocols: Hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons, pet groomers, state parks and outdoor recreation can be reopened. These businesses must maintain distance between customers and encourage patrons to wait in their car until their appointment to avoid congestion. ‘
Grocery stores should continue to have special hours for the seniors and other vulnerable community citizens.
Starting on May 1, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, sporting venues, tattoo parlors, and places of worship can re-open statewide if they adhere to strict social distancing and sanitation protocols.
During Phase 1, visits to senior living facilities and hospitals are prohibited. Schools, organized sporting events, camps and bars should remain closed until further notice.
Then, if Oklahoma’s hospital and incident rates remain manageable for 14 days, the State will move to Phase 2.
On May 15 organized sports activities can reopen and operate under proper social distancing and sanitation protocols. Bars can operate with diminished standing-room occupancy, funerals and weddings can resume, and children’s nursery areas in places of worship can reopen. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals will still be prohibited.
Once hospital and incident rates remain at a manageable level statewide for 14 additional days, Phase 3 will begin on June 1.
At that time, employers can resume unrestricted staffing at worksites, and summer camps can open. However, visits to senior care facilities and hospitals should still be prohibited.
According to a press release the OKC-Oklahoma County Health Department (OCCHD) strongly encourages those personal care businesses that decide to open April 24 to require all employees and all customers wear masks inside the business at all times.
In addition, those businesses should also adhere to the guidance recommended by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. Businesses in Oklahoma County should contact their local city hall to determine whether the April 24 opening date applies to them.
The governor’s plan drew a quick response from supporters and those who are not in agreement.
Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks, M.D. released the following statement: “We are concerned Gov. Stitt’s plan to reopen the state is hasty at best. Even without widespread testing, Oklahoma has seen an ongoing growth in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the past week alone. According to the Trump administration, states should not begin this process until they’ve seen a two-week downward trajectory in COVID-19 cases, and we are far from this point.
“Oklahoma’s physicians, nurses and other health care workers continue to care for those who are ill from this savage disease. To increase the danger of widespread infection by opening prematurely not only discounts their efforts, but also the sacrifices made by their loved ones.”
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt released a statement, saying: “As was announced three weeks ago, and in the interest of public health, our city’s shelter-in-place proclamation lasts through April 30, as does the closure of personal care services.
“On the advice of our local public health experts, it is our intent to follow the spirit of the White House criteria for potentially entering a new phase after April 30. We dearly hope that public health data allows Oklahoma City to consider entering that new phase on May 1st as the governor has envisioned. We will continue to monitor public health data and will provide updates on our local plans as we have them.”
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum posted on Facebook, “I appreciate Governor Stitt announcing his plan for Oklahoma today. I am working with both the Tulsa Health Department and the State Department of Health to assess the latest trend data that would indicate when we can safely begin such a process in Tulsa.
“I plan to discuss these matters with the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Advisory Committee and my colleagues in other Tulsa County municipalities on Thursday, and will share my thoughts on the path forward in a press briefing on Friday. The Tulsa Safer at Home order remains in effect within our city limits through April 30.”
Mindy Ragan Wood with The Norman Transcript reported that Mayor Breea Clark “accused Stitt of starting a battle between municipalities.”
As reported by The Oklahoman, Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the State Chamber and chair of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Bounce Back Advisory Group said, “Once we get Oklahoma open safely, we can start talking about restoration and restoring the economy. That is obviously of big importance to the business community of Oklahoma.
“(Stitt) identified some strong business leaders…across the state of Oklahoma, across the industry sectors,” Warmington added. “They asked a lot of good questions. They wanted to know right from the very beginning: Talk to us about the health measures. Are we on pace for all those things and how is the state measuring those outcomes? We’re very satisfied for the answers that we got. I think we’re really ready to move on to the restoration part once we get open for business.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, released the following statement: “The Centers for Disease Control has issued clear guidelines on when states should begin reopening and at this moment, Oklahoma does not meet those criteria.
“Furthermore, since the beginning of this crisis, we have failed to administer proper testing or tracing that is needed to ensure Oklahoma meets the CDC guidelines.
Reopening without proper data and against the scientific community (recommendations) puts Oklahoma workers in a dangerous position to have to choose between their safety and their job,” Virgin said. “We urge the governor to reconsider until better data is available.”
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, expressed similar views.
State Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, was supportive of the governor’s approach, saying in a press release: “The plan and phases outlined today by Governor Stitt give common sense guidelines for industries to maintain social distancing practices and continue increased sanitation efforts.”
Read Gov. Stitt’s press release regarding his plan here.