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Norman businesses adjust to mayor's new COVID-19 restrictions in attempt to slow pandemic spread

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Breea Clark

Norman Mayor Breea Clark on June 9.

Norman Mayor Breea Clark issued new restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms and indoor sporting events which began Monday, forcing local businesses to find a way to keep financially stable while abiding by the restrictions.

The new restrictions were announced in a news release posted Nov. 25 on the City of Norman’s website. According to the release, restaurants, bars and fitness centers are capped at 50 percent, and indoor sporting events are allowed one spectator per athlete.

The new restaurant and bar restrictions come two weeks after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced all bars would close by 11 p.m. in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A Norman restaurant owner said in an interview many are now tasked with finding the median between state and city restrictions and keeping their business afloat.

“Now more than ever, it's so important that we abide by these restrictions, and not only are we losing money, but we're having to spend a little bit more money to abide by them,” said Travis Case, owner of the Sideline Bar and Grill on Campus Corner. “It's a double negative at times, and it's tough to go through. We're already losing some of the hours of the nightlife for the governor's mandates. It's definitely a huge blow.”

Case said they are encouraging students to come before the nightlife usually begins to abide by the governor's mandate.

“We've adapted through this time, specifically in the past three or four weeks. We've adjusted, we're encouraging students in the community to come out to our bar a little bit earlier than normal,” Case said. “We're doing everything in our own life and abilities that we can to maintain a safe environment.”

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said in the release places where people remove their masks — like bars and restaurants — are part of the skyrocketing case numbers.

“With the marked increase in COVID case counts over the past three weeks and the surge of hospital admissions, there is a need to move from strategies that rely on ‘containment,’” Bratzler said in the Nov. 25 release. “Until we have a broadly distributed vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the risk of virus transmission in places where there are large indoor gatherings, including parties, conferences, religious events and sporting events, and in settings where patrons routinely remove their masks, such as restaurants and bars, remains high.”

In a Nov. 10 press conference, OU Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Cameron Mantor issued a warning about the situation within hospitals as cases rise.

“If our current rate of infection is not curbed, we will run out of beds and out of staff,” Mantor said. “The hospitals and physicians cannot stop this pandemic. … Staffing is becoming an issue.”

Clark cited the jump in COVID-19 cases and record-high numbers of hospitalizations as the reason for the new restrictions.

“We are asking our healthcare professionals and first responders to work shift after shift as all of our numbers are skyrocketing,” Clark said in the release. “They are emotionally and physically exhausted, and it’s past time to take action, and show them they’re not alone in the fight against COVID-19.”

Clark issued a stay-at-home order in March, but she said the current course the city is on is more dangerous than ever.

“The initial stay-at-home order was issued back in March after we saw one death in our community,” Clark said. “We have now seen 70 — our friends, our neighbors, our veterans, our educators. The path we are currently on has proven gravely unsuccessful, and it’s time to change course.”

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