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Some Oklahoma businesses reopen despite rise in virus cases

April 24, 2020 GMT
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Lorri Center, left, has her nails done by Trish Ho at BA Nail & Spa in Broken Arrow, Okla., on Friday, April 24, 2020. The shop was among several allowed to reopen in a loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions. (Matt Barnard/Tulsa World via AP)
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Lorri Center, left, has her nails done by Trish Ho at BA Nail & Spa in Broken Arrow, Okla., on Friday, April 24, 2020. The shop was among several allowed to reopen in a loosening of coronavirus-related restrictions. (Matt Barnard/Tulsa World via AP)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Salons, spas and barbershops opened up in much of Oklahoma on Friday after the governor authorized it despite concerns from medical professionals and a steady increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases in the state.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt authorized such personal-care businesses to open earlier this week, citing an overall decline in the number of people being hospitalized for the illness. Those businesses have been told to adhere to social distancing standards, have employees wear masks and frequently sanitize equipment.

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Some of the state’s largest cities, including Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, decided to keep their bans in place until at least the end of the month, while other municipalities that had bans in place lifted them to align with the governor’s authorization.

The mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City announced that they would lift their stay-at-home orders next Friday, when Stitt has said that restaurants, movie theaters, gyms and places of worship can reopen.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum acknowledged that lifting the city’s order would likely lead to an increase in infections, but he said it would be futile to keep it in place when so many neighboring cities are rolling back their orders.

“Tulsa does not exist in a bubble,” he said.

Similar scenarios are playing out across the country as governors weigh weeks of quarantine-fueled job losses and soaring unemployment claims against health officials’ warnings that lifting stay-at-home orders now could spark a resurgence of COVID-19.

Amy Pembrook and her husband, Mike, said they reopened their Pemberton & Co. Salon in the northwestern Oklahoma city of Fairview after the business had been shuttered for about a month.

“It’s been a double hit for us with both of us in the same profession,” Amy Pembrook said. “We’re super excited about going back, but we have caught a little flack from people who say it’s too early. We just said we can live in fear for a long time or we can trust that everything is going to be OK.”

Despite her husband’s history of upper-respiratory problems, Pembrook said she feels like increased sanitizing, wearing masks and limiting the number of people in the shop will help keep them safe. She also noted that there have been only two reported cases in Major County, and none in Fairview.

In the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, Elephant in the Room Men’s Grooming Shop Owner Clay Clark was offering men’s haircuts for $1 and said he was booked with appointments for the rest of the week.

“We have literally 1,000 men trying to get a haircut,” Clark said. “It’s a wild thing. We had one guy who drove an hour and a half today.”

Statewide, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported nine new deaths and more than 100 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick. At least 188 people have died in Oklahoma from COVID-19 since the outbreak started.

Groups representing doctors and nurses in Oklahoma have expressed reservations about Stitt’s authorization to reopen personal-care businesses this early. Dr. George Monks, who heads the Oklahoma State Medical Association, called the decision “hasty at best.”

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“To increase the danger of widespread infection by opening prematurely not only discounts their efforts, but also the sacrifices made by their loved ones,” Monks said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak