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‘Time to take this seriously’: Norman officials discuss coronavirus response at press conference

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Coronavirus COVID-19

Norman Mayor Breea Clark and other city officials discussed the city’s response to the coronavirus in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

The press conference, which was held in City Hall and broadcast on YouTube, came a day after Clark announced Monday evening that gatherings larger than 50 people would be prohibited effective immediately. The announcement also closed numerous establishments including bars, restaurants and gyms effective at 8 p.m. Wednesday with the exception of services such as drive-thru, takeout and delivery.

In the press conference, Clark said the measures were important to proactively ensure safety for the residents of Cleveland County. The press conference also included Wes Moody, Norman Public Schools communications specialist; Brittni McGill, chief nursing officer of Norman Regional Health System; and Dr. Aaron Boyd, chief medical officer of Norman Regional Health System. 

“The goal is to not see that (exponential) spike,” Clark said. “We will know if we’re successful with lower numbers. There may be some who say, ‘See, she overreacted.’ I will never feel that way. If we can save one life in Norman, Cleveland County, Oklahoma, all of it was worth it.”

Clark recognized local leadership around the state, acknowledging that the measures may feel drastic but that Oklahoman municipalities have had the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t in other states and nations. 

The measures are important to stay ahead of the spread of the coronavirus, Clark said.

“I am so pleased that not only is Norman enacting changes like this, but also so far announced is Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Stillwater,” Clark said. “I want to commend the mayors of those cities for also taking strong actions to stop the spread of this virus, because it is these actions from cities and local governments that will help protect our local health care systems so that they do not become overwhelmed like we have seen in other cities, other states and other nations.”

Clark acknowledged the difficulties the business closures will cause for local businesses and employees, but she encouraged people to reach out to their state and federal officials. The city has also been compiling a document that lists which establishments are open and what services they will offer.

“Having been someone who put herself through college by bartending, I have lived paycheck to paycheck — again, this decision was not made lightly,” Clark said. “What I tell (people struggling from the closures) is that the sooner we get ahead of this, the sooner we get past this. I also encourage them to reach out to their state and federal officials and tell them to do their job. There are businesses and people that are hurting, and there is only so much a city can do. If we can bail out Wall Street, I certainly hope we can bail out Main Street.”

A reporter asked why Norman restaurants and other establishments would not be closed until Wednesday evening, referencing establishments such as O’Connell’s Irish Pub and Grille, which the reporter noted was hosting patrons on Tuesday during St. Patrick’s Day. 

Clark said the measures did not close businesses immediately because local business leaders had asked for time to prepare. 

“We were willing to put it into place last night, but we did have businesses ask for time to prepare,” Clark said. “I’ve also had a business owner ask for more time to prepare because they have thousands of dollars of food that is not likely going to get eaten now. So that was our best solution to be accommodating to our businesses but to make the announcement ahead of time.”

Boyd recommended at the press conference that residents call the Oklahoma coronavirus hotline at 877-215-8336 if they think they may require a test or want more information and are not experiencing serious symptoms. 

“If you normally would seek medical care at an emergency room, that’s still what we want to see,” Boyd said. “But for anyone who just has mild symptoms or has questions about COVID-19, or thinks they might have symptoms of COVID-19, we do not need to see you in our emergency department, we need you to call (the hotline).” 

Professionals from the state health department on the hotline can walk residents through the process over the phone, Boyd said, which will help hospitals use their resources for those who need medical treatment most.

“Call before you go,” Boyd said. “The health department will get involved and will be the one to monitor you and anyone you come in contact with. We have to be prepared for this to get worse, and the biggest step in that is making sure all of our providers at the hospital can be prepared to take care of you.”

Clark, Boyd and other officials emphasized the importance of social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Clark said the decision to close establishments will help.

“Again, to put residents on notice that this is to be taken seriously. This isn’t something that we chose to do lightly, and hopefully people will start making smart choices regarding helping stopping the spread of this virus.”

Clark said the city is prepared to make changes to the number of people allowed to gather, and she advised residents to take the situation seriously — but not panic.

“Right now, our goal with being proactive with our messaging was to take this seriously,” Clark said. “I’m hoping that our residents will see that whether the number is 50, 25 or 10, now is the time to take this seriously and practice social distancing.”

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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