Mayor G.T. Bynum said nobody is contemplating another shutdown, but he does anticipate one ordinance — if not multiple ones — for city councilors to consider in a special meeting next week to slow COVID-19’s spread.
In a news conference Thursday, Bynum said penalties for noncompliance with the local mask ordinance are on the table, as are limits on event sizes.
He acknowledged that there is a level of disconnect between the government’s asking people not to get together for Thanksgiving but still allowing large events, albeit with the requirement for an approved safety plan that doesn’t apply to private holiday gatherings.
“I think that’s a fair criticism that we’re sending a mixed message, and that’s why we’re reevaluating the event size limitation,” Bynum said.
Bruce Dart, executive director of Tulsa Health Department, said masks, physical distancing and handwashing have been the only tools available to slow or prevent the coronavirus’s spread.
A recent Stanford study analyzed the cellphone mobility data of 98 million people in 10 of the nation’s largest metro areas this past spring.
Researchers found that a small decrease in visits to the highest-risk places can have a disproportionately large reduction in the spread of infections, which can be achieved through capacity restrictions.
Restaurants, cafes, gyms, hotels and religious organizations on average were the settings where the largest increase in infections happened after they reopened from stay-at-home orders, according to the researchers.
Dart said the Stanford study was “really definitive” and that it offers recommendations that every community should be serious about implementing to keep communities safe.
“We need to make sure that we have as many tools in place as we can to keep people safe, which really includes capacity and distancing and people’s ability to come together and stay apart while they’re in a facility,” Dart said.
Bynum emphasized that the city of Tulsa is enforcing the executive order that Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Monday.
The order, which went into effect Thursday, requires that restaurants and bars put 6 feet of space between tables, booths or bar tops — unless there are properly sanitized dividers — and imposes an 11 p.m. curfew to stop in-person serving. Drive-through windows and curbside pickup are allowed after 11 p.m.
“I think it’s very notable that these are the first restrictions that the governor has issued since May, in almost six months,” Bynum said. “I think that should speak to the level of severity that is being recognized — the situation we’re in at all levels of government.
“The fact that the governor would take that kind of action after the last six months and do this — even more important than the specifics of what he did — it’s the fact that he’s acknowledging that we’re in a dire situation and that action is necessary.”
Bynum said Stitt’s order will help from a physical distancing standpoint but that it is less effective and more financially harmful to businesses than a statewide masking order would be.
Bynum delivered a call directly to Tulsans to help health care workers who are struggling to keep the community safe as the novel coronavirus spreads largely unchecked throughout Oklahoma.
“This is no great challenge that I’m asking of you: It’s just to take it easy for the next 10 days,” he said. “Let’s get through the month of November and minimize the number of people that we come in contact with.”
Dart said the safest way to spend Thanksgiving is to stay in with members of your household.
Any other activities put yourself and others at risk, Dart said. He recommended that if people do gather, they should keep it to 10 people or fewer and wear masks, social distance and wash hands. If possible, dining outside is less risky than inside.
He said it might feel silly to wear a mask around extended family, but the alternative is for the virus — which is “circulating everywhere” — to potentially transmit unknowingly among your loved ones.
“I’m not asking you to fear this virus; I’m asking for a healthy respect of a danger that can be lurking in plain sight as we know that many people are completely asymptomatic carriers,” Dart said. “It would be absolutely devastating to learn that a family member who contracted the virus at Thanksgiving was not alive at Christmas.”