McAlester councilors voted to extend ordered closures and restrictions on certain businesses to 8 p.m. Tuesday.
City Manager Pete Stasiak issued a civil emergency proclamation March 20 that placed closures and restrictions on certain businesses in city limits for 48 hours starting at 12:01 a.m. March 21.
Councilors voted, 6-1, during Monday morning’s emergency meeting to approve a motion to extend the existing order to 8 p.m. Tuesday and discuss it under new business during the council’s regular meeting that night. Councilors James Brown, Maureen Harrison, Cully Stevens, Zach Prichard, Steve Cox and Mayor John Browne voted yes. Councilor Weldon Smith voted no.
“We’re trying to limit social gathering and prevent spreading the virus,” Stasiak said, adding many municipalities across the state and nation took similar approaches.
Mayor Browne said he joined a conference call with the state’s mayors last week, when mayors from Oklahoma City and Tulsa recommended closing public gatherings.
Global data from the World Health Organization shows 350,000 confirmed cases, 15,000 deaths and 100,000 recovered patients of the coronavirus as of Monday.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 81 positive coronavirus cases and two deaths as of Monday morning. None were reported in Pittsburg County as of Monday morning.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa are among cities across the state and nation to close public venues, while Gov. Kevin Stitt has yet to issue such an order.
“And I think he’s being derelict in his duty,” Browne said of the governor.
The virus typically causes mild or moderate symptoms and the majority of patients recover within weeks, but it can lead to more severe illnesses, especially among elderly with preexisting health conditions, according to the CDC.
Those who think they have COVID-19 symptoms should call their primary care provider, per state and federal guidelines. Samples are collected from potential patients, then sent to a testing lab.
A global coronavirus pandemic was declared March 11 by the WHO, leading President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency on March 13.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a state of emergency March 15, before disaster declarations by the Pittsburg County commissioners on March 16 and the city of McAlester on March 17.
McAlester’s civil emergency proclamation orders orders on-premises consumption closed and businesses only open to takeout and delivery services.
“The idea behind the order is to keep people from congregating in places,” Browne said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and OSDH recommend limiting gatherings to 10 people or less and keeping six feet away from other people, among other guidelines that can be found at www.coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
State and federal guidelines also encourage anyone who is sick stay home, increased hand washing with warm soapy water for 20 seconds, limit face-to-face contact between employees and customers, and limiting dining room capacity or moving to carry-out or to-go options.
But owners of gyms and fitness centers in McAlester voiced concerns to the council during the Monday meeting.
Jason Fassio, of Fassio’s Fitness, said March-May are typically the best financially for his business and he’s already seeing a negative impact due to the coronavirus precautions.
He said plans are in place for his gym to follow CDC guidelines and to increase sanitation protocols.
Valarie Walton, of Signature Fitness, shared those concerns and said she knows “we have to be diligent” — but urged the council to consider other options.
“Can we please look at the community as a whole and see if there’s anything we can do to prevent some of this panic?”she asked. “Can we bring a little bit of normal, is it possible to do that?”
Nikki Kalin, of Subway, told councilors she understands the reason behind the safety measures, but believes larger businesses should face more sanitation mandates.
Kalin said she just completed a $100,000 remodel of her restaurant and is already seeing one-fourth the amount of sales she attributed to the pandemic.
She urged councilors to consider broader restrictions and extra tax breaks to help small businesses.
“Some of us won’t make it out of this, so I ask that we are reasonable with all businesses,” Kalin said.
Alyssa Latty, executive director of McAlester Main Street Association, said during the meeting that her organization partnered with the McAlester Area Chamber of Commerce, the local branch of the Small Business Administration and more to help local businesses apply for disaster relief loans.
Council members said they shared concerns of the business owners and will continue discussing ways to prevent community spread of coronavirus and minimize impact on business during the pandemic.
Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated as of 1:30 p.m. March 23, 2020.