NORMAN — COVID-19 has landed in Norman and Mayor Breea Clark is taking big steps to mitigate the virus spread by closing all bars, some restaurants and other businesses inside city limits for 15 days.
Effective at the conclusion of Monday’s special session, all bars had 48 hours to close. The rule also applies to restaurants that do not offer delivery, drive-thru or curbside pickup, Clark declared. While Clark expressed her desire that restaurants close by 9 p.m. no curfew is included in her official proclamation.
Also forced to close are theaters, fitness studios and gyms, recreation facilities and private clubs. Clark’s declaration limits public gatherings to no more than 50 people, “excepting political subdivisions over which the city has no control,” the declaration reads. Several businesses have already closed.
City Attorney Kathryn Walker told the council Monday night a state statute, Title 11, regarding quarantine and the city’s charter, Section 2 allows the mayor to take such actions. While the closures will be in effect for 15 days, Clark has the authority to lengthen the duration without council vote just as she had the powers to enact the ban alone.
Her action comes after she proclaimed state of emergency for Norman Friday following President Donald Trump’s national declaration. Several cities across the state have followed.
Clark said her declaration is less restrictive than other nations that have stopped all businesses from opening unless they offer essential services.
“What has been happening around the world, banks, pharmacies and grocery stores have been permitted to stay open for obvious reasons,” Clark said. “We’re all trying to be proactive in this and hopefully by being proactive we’re closed a shorter amount of time. I think people realize that.”
Monday afternoon, Gov. Kevin Stitt held a conference call with state and city leaders but Clark was not satisfied with his recommendations.
“I was really hoping for statewide mandate,” Clark said. “A true message that this is how we’re going to approach this as a state and his failure to do that as a state, keeps this piecemeal, city-by-city approach which benefits no one. Again, there’s no walls around cities.”
Other cities have taken similar measures to Norman. During the meeting Monday night, Clark read from an ordinance Dallas recently adopted. Houston has done the same.
Restaurants which do not qualify to remain open could be fined if the owners do not close them, but Clark said she did not have details on the financial penalty. A draft of the ordinance does not establish a fine.
“There is the ability to fine people,” Clark said. “What I’ve asked our police to do is start with a warning. This is real. This is serious. Then move forward with fining after that.”
The decision to close these businesses came after lengthy discussion with the council Monday night and their discussions with health professionals in the days leading up to Clark’s actions.
She interviewed Dr. Stephanie Barnhart from Norman Regional Health System, an emergency room physician.
“I asked her, is this serious?’ And she said, ‘It’s very serious. We just don’t have the antibodies for it.’ We know it kills people. I’m not about to mess around with that. Not on my watch.”
Norman Chamber of Commerce has launched several efforts to help businesses adapt to offer online sales or curbside pick up for goods, especially local restaurants. Chamber Director Scott Martin is urging the public to purchase gift cards that can be used when the threat of the virus has passed and to continue paying for their memberships. Martin is also encouraging business owners impacted by the outbreak to register with the Oklahoma Small Business Disaster Economic Injury Assessment which will help trigger the release of any funds the federal and state government chooses to provide.
Clark’s emergency declaration Friday triggered the city’s implementation its emergency operations protocols. Staff is limiting exposure with public and encouraging online payment and drive-thru window services. Municipal court has been suspended and court appearances are being rescheduled for June and throughout the summer months.
Correction: This story was updated at 12:10 a.m. to clarify that while Mayor Breea Clark expressed her desire that restaurants close by 9 p.m., the city did not enforce a mandatory curfew.
Mindy Ragan Wood