Lawton car washes open

Kimberly Lee washes her vehicle Tuesday at a northwest Lawton car wash, one of the businesses allowed to remain operational under amendments provided to the City of Lawton's Civil Emergency Proclamation.

The City of Lawton is enacting a shelter in place order beginning at noon Thursday, one that will impose a curfew on most residents, put a stricter social grouping guideline into effect and extend Lawton’s Civil Emergency Proclamation through April 30.

The order, first announced Tuesday by Mayor Stan Booker in a social media address, also is adding additional businesses — furniture stores, appliance stores and sporting goods stores — to the list of businesses that may be open. But, all businesses allowed to remain open in the city limits during the Civil Emergency will be subject to stricter guidelines, including sanitary protections and limits on the number of customers they may serve at one time.

Booker had intended the restrictions to go into effect today, but moved the start date to Thursday to allow City Council members to discuss issues at Thursday’s special morning council meeting and to give businesses time to conform to new restrictions.

City administrators said the “shelter in place” order means residents should stay at home, except for essential needs or for their work. The proposal includes a curfew, meaning that between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., only essential workers (meaning, those employed by businesses that meet the city’s definition of essential) will be allowed on the street. Exceptions will be made for emergency situations.

Residents out during those hours for work will be required “to carry and provide, if necessary, a letter documenting the essential service they provide on the official letterhead of their organization,” city administrators said in a statement. City officials have not said whether Lawton police will be stopping people to check for that letter.

According to Oklahoma Emergency Management, as of late Tuesday, Lawton was the only city in the state requiring paperwork proof for essential workers.

As part of the safety precautions, Booker also ordered the reduction of permitted social groups — meaning, gatherings of people — to six (it had been 10 people). Booker said he was implementing that provision to slow the spread of COVID-19 and encourage social distancing.

And, acknowledging that health models are predicting Oklahoma’s COVID-19 epidemic will peak in 17 days, Booker extended the Civil Emergency Proclamation until April 30 (it had been set to expire in mid-April).

“This is not going to be over as soon as we hoped,” Booker said in his address.

Booker’s actions also are allowing some businesses to reopen or remain open, when they were not part of the original list of businesses deemed essential.

Those include allowing appliance and furniture stores, and sporting goods stores to reopen, to help ease crowds at big box stores that were allowed to remain open, thereby attracting larger crowds.

“I have made this decision after consults with health officials, who agree that it is just better to spread people out,” Booker said in his statement.

Booker said his original actions to limit shopping by being more aggressive than the state “actually had the opposite effect of driving more people to a limited number of stores,” adding some businesses were so busy it made social distancing impossible. He said his actions to close more businesses put more people in fewer buildings.

His directive also includes an “individual essential shopping policy” when possible, meaning only one person should go inside to conduct business. Booker said Walmart already has implemented a One Cart, One Shopper policy and other businesses will be required to erect signs explaining that policy, which is intended to increase social distancing.

The city also will cut the permitted occupancy of businesses that are allowed to remain open, with those businesses required to monitor the number of customers in their facility at one time. City administrators said a business owner may determine the number of permitted customers by taking the total square footage of his/her building and dividing by 500 (a 3,000-square-foot building could allow only six customers at one time, for example).

In order to enforce social distancing and sanitation, the proclamation will require businesses to install sneeze guards to protect cashiers and customers when the exchange of payment takes place within 6 feet of each other (some businesses already had those measures in place over the weekend). All employees must sanitize their hands between each customer, and where self-service registers are used, sanitary wipes must be available to clean the machines before each use.

Refillable food and drink containers at any business will be forbidden under the amendment, Booker said. Facilities that provide fuel will be required to post signs warning customers there is a risk of COVID-19 spread by using the pump handles; therefore, they should wear gloves or sanitize before and after using the pumps.

In his statement, Booker said golf courses in the city have implemented strict “no touch” rules with sanitation requirements, allowing them to remain open if golfers maintain the social distancing guidelines (administrators have contacted state officials to confirm that decision). In addition, tennis courts in the city remain open to singles play.

“I will be monitoring to see if these measures bring the desired result, and if not, I will prepare other measures to do so,” Booker said in his statement.

City Council members are expected to discuss the issue during a special meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Booker said in his statement that all measures being imposed will have a penalty, to include fines, “including holding parents responsible with fines” and revocation of occupancy permits.

“This is the most aggressive Shelter in Place Order in the state that I am aware of, with the adding of several important sanitation and socializing spacing requirements on businesses to protect employee and customers alike,” Booker said in his statement. “We want to be the example of reaching the goal of flattening the curve to save lives.”

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