Oklahoma businesses set to reopen amid virus pandemic
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahomans were allowed to return to restaurants, malls and other stores on Friday as stay-at-home orders expired in the state’s biggest cities, bringing local governments in line with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plans for reopening the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Social distancing rules will still apply, though it remained to be seen how many businesses would reopen and how many people would want to spend money as the steep economic downturn has led to staggering job loss. Nationally, more than 30.3 million workers have filed for unemployment in the last six weeks.
Dozens of people waited in line outside the Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City before it opened Friday morning. Few of them were wearing masks or practicing strict social distancing, despite recommendations from public health officials.
“Please recognize that the virus doesn’t care that it is May 1,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said Friday. “We still have a deadly virus in our community that has no vaccine and no proven treatment.
“The activities returning today have the potential to create new opportunities for spreading the virus, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The state health department on Friday reported that Oklahoma has had more than 3,700 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 230 deaths from the disease. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected without showing symptoms.
The eight new deaths reported on Friday were all people who were over the age of 65. Nearly 40% of the reported COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma — 91 in total — have been residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities, according to health department statistics.
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.
At Sean Cummings’ Irish Restaurant in Oklahoma City, Cummings was busy Friday whipping up a 20-gallon batch of goulash. He said he’s managed to keep his entire kitchen staff and 90% of his servers employed by doing curbside and takeout food orders.
Cummings has moved to disposable dishes, silverware and condiments, and he said that when he reopened the restaurant on Friday, customers would order their food at a designated spot by the bar where they could pick it up and take it to their tables.
“That’s the way most restaurants in Europe do it,” Cummings said. “So it looks much more legitimately European, and it also enables my customers and employees to feel safe. That’s the No. 1 thing for me.
“This may be what the future looks like in the pub business.”
Barber shops, hair and nail salons, and spas began reopening a week ago in many cities after Stitt allowed them to resume business if they keep customers a safe distance apart and follow sanitation guidelines. Tulsa’s mayor G.T. Bynum reluctantly lifted his local stay-at-home order saying it would be futile to keep it in place when so many neighboring cities were rolling theirs back.
Also on Friday, Oklahoma State University announced plans to have in-person classes resume on its campus in the fall. The University of Oklahoma announced similar plans last week.