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Norman amid coronavirus: mayor lifts restrictions to allow places of worship, entertainment venues to open

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Norman Mayor Breea Clark amended the Healthier at Home social distancing plan on Friday to allow places of worship and entertainment venues to open.

“Although our restriction on in-person services for places of worship has been consistent with both our restriction on comparable mass gathering venues and identical restrictions on in-person services by the state’s earlier proclamations, I will not spend years feuding with the federal government over one week,” Clark said in a press release. 

According to the release, Healthier at Home is Norman’s three-phase plan to open businesses and public facilities “while continuing to ensure the city’s healthcare system does not become overwhelmed, and adequate personal protective equipment remains available to medical personnel and first responders.”

“We have consistently made data-driven decisions supported by medical professionals that have helped lead the way and set the bar for how to handle a pandemic in our state,” Clark said in the release. “None of the decisions made to date were to hurt businesses or infringe on rights — they were to protect people. And what we are doing is working.”

Clark’s initial Healthier at Home Phase 1A opened dining areas of restaurants — by reservation only and following social distancing and sanitation guidelines — along with retail stores at limited capacity on May 1. The three-tiered plan is expected to continue until August 1, which is the goal date for all restrictions to lift.

Places of worship and entertainment venues were originally not set to open until Phase 1B, which will go into effect May 15. Under the amendment, places of worship and entertainment venues are now allowed to open to the public.

According to the amendment, Attorney General Mike Hunter issues a press release May 7 calling for Clark to amend the Healthier at Home plan to allow places of worship to open, citing U.S. Attorney Tim Downing’s letter to the city. In the letter, Downing said Healthier at Home may violate the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The amendment said while there are “legitimate and serious public health and safety concerns” related to large gatherings at places of work and entertainment venues, and the full 14-day incubation period has not yet passed since the implementation of Phase 1A, state and federal officials have “urged that places of worship be allowed to open.”

“I love this country and I love this city,” Clark said in the release. “I encourage our residents to wear masks and make smart decisions for their health and the health of others.”

Beth Wallis is a senior journalism major and political science minor, and news managing editor for The Daily. Previously, she worked as a junior news reporter covering university research.

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