KREBS — Business leaders and the mayor of Krebs argued whether temporarily closing establishments would kill the city’s economy and leave several families without incomes, or if it would save lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Krebs city councilors discussed in an emergency meeting Saturday afternoon closing establishments that sell liquor or beer by the drink, gyms and fitness centers, and other facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The city — known as Oklahoma’s “Little Italy” for its rich history of Italian-style restaurants Pete’s Place, Roseanna’s and Isle Capri — also discussed closing dine-in and on-premises restaurants.
Concerned restaurant leaders pleaded with the council and Krebs Mayor Bobby Watkins to vote against the closures — saying they already follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Kevin Stitt has not ordered closures.
“We’re talking about lives,” Watkins yelled and slammed his hand on a table during discussion.
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.
Although the virus typically causes mild or moderate symptoms and the majority of patients recover within weeks, it can lead to more severe illnesses, especially among the elderly with preexisting health conditions.
But Krebs restaurant leaders passionately argued that closing establishments would also devastate residents’ lives.
Katie Walters, of Pete’s Place, said the restaurant’s revenue will significantly decline during a closure — but she worries how that could impact employees and their families.
Elizabeth Prichard, of Roseanna’s, agreed and told councilors the city’s restaurant leaders all share concerns about caring for their employees during a potential closure.
Kathy Prichard, of Pete’s Place, told councilors they shouldn’t close establishments as they are already following CDC guidelines — explaining how Pete’s Place implements additional sanitation protocols, seats customers six feet apart, and offers curbside and delivery services to help prevent community spread.
Council members and business leaders discussed ways to limit exposure and prevent community spread, in addition to how they can enforce any mandate.
“There ain’t no easy answers,” Watkins said.
Councilors approved a state of emergency proclamation that enacted several orders effective as of 3:30 p.m. Saturday:
• Krebs city facilities will be closed to the public until April 1.
• Local restaurants, bars, businesses, and privately-owned gathering places are highly recommended to ensure at least six (6) feet of space for each patron, per CDC recommendation.
The proclamation also orders all Krebs businesses open for drive-thru, takeout and delivery services only from 12:01 a.m. March 23 to 12:01 a.m. March 25.
It orders closure during that time of establishments selling liquor or beer by the drink, in addition to gyms, fitness centers, recreation centers and other similar facilities.
“I don’t like stepping on people’s toes that support the city of Krebs but it’s a matter of life and death,” Watkins said.
“It’s not an easy decision, but when it comes to lives, I don’t see another way,” he added.
Krebs has a regular city council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at city hall.
The closure was not on the regular meeting agenda, so councilors set a special meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday to consider further action relating to the 48-hour mandate that ends at 12:01 a.m. earlier that day.
The CDC and OSDH recommend encouraging sick employees to stay home, increased hand washing with warm soapy water for 20 seconds, limit face-to-face contact between employees and customers, and more that can be found at ww.coronavirus.health.ok.gov.
OSDH guidelines also recommend limiting gatherings to 10 people or less and keeping six feet away from other people. Four Krebs councilors, the mayor and the city clerk all sat within feet of each other during the meeting with 13 other people in attendance at City Hall.
Guidelines also suggest limiting dining room capacity or moving to carry-out or to-go options. The Krebs restaurant leaders said they have done so.
State officials said this week a dwindling number of testing kits might contribute to low case reports.
Regional Health Department Director Juli Montgomery said the Pittsburg County Health Department had 19 specimen collection kits as of Friday evening. The OSDH partnered with a facility allowing 300 specimens to be shipped immediately for testing and increased capacity for delivering results.
Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at email@example.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated as of noon March 23, 2020.