Last day for Golf in Lawton

Rob Hay practices chipping in at the Lawton Country Club Thursday, on one of what will be last days of open golf courses in Lawton. Effective at noon today, golf courses will be closed as the City of Lawton enforces regulations to help control the spread of COVID-19.

City Council members have amended the city’s list of businesses that may be open during the Civil Emergency and set lower customer occupancy numbers for businesses that may stay open, changes that go into effect today.

A variety of other changes — to include a curfew, a need for essential employees travel documents, and mandates for strict sanitation and social distancing practices in businesses — are expected to go into effect Monday, after council members spent more than three hours Thursday discussing and debating provisions that Mayor Stan Booker initially had proposed go into effect this week.

The issues came Thursday as Booker, Deputy Mayor/Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk and city administrators have tried to keep pace with the changing landscape being forced on governmental entities trying to encourage the social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions that health care professionals say is the best way to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

An initial Civil Emergency Proclamation issued more than two weeks ago has been amended several times and had been amended again this week and set to go into effect — until Booker said he wanted council discussion before new steps were implemented. Booker announced earlier this week that the Civil Emergency, which had been set to expire in mid-April, has been extended until April 30, a decision he reaffirmed after Thursday’s meeting.

The biggest change stemming from Thursday’s meeting: some businesses that had been allowed to reopen will be ordered closed today, with some other activities/businesses add to the closure list.

The proposals that go into effect at noon today:

• Golf courses, tennis courts and disc golf courses will be closed.

• Only automated drive-through car washes (which do not require human interaction) may remain open.

• Furniture stores (which had been allowed to reopen this week) will be closed.

• Appliance stores (which had been allowed to reopen this week) will remain open. Furniture stores that sell appliances may sell appliances only.

• Sporting goods stores (which had been allowed to reopen this week) now may sell only firearms and ammunition while the city legal staff researches whether such merchandise is allowed to be sold.

• Essential businesses, including big box stores, will not be allowed to sell clothing and sporting good items to walk-in customers. Customers may order such items online for curbside pickup or delivery. Other businesses will be encouraged to expand the use of curbside or delivery.

The closure choices weren’t unanimous: Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh voted against the measure, saying the discussion and ultimate decision was confusing and he couldn’t support it without further discussion.

Set to take effect at 5 p.m. today are requirements that businesses allowed to remain open must limit the number of customers permitted inside their facilities at one time.

Those businesses will be directed to use a formula that allows one customer per 500 square feet of their business, meaning a business will calculate its total square footage and divide by 500 to reach the maximum number of customers allowed at one time (for example, a 3,000 square foot business would be allowed to have six customers). But, businesses will be capped at no more than 100 customers at one time, a compromise for council members who said large box retailers such as Walmart would be allowed to have significantly more people because their total square footage is larger.

City Manager Michael Cleghorn said capping the maximum number would resolve concerns: the formula will specify that businesses may have one customer per 500 square feet or 100 total customers, whichever number is smaller. Council members said such businesses should assign personnel to calculate customers, meaning some people might have to stay outside until a customer inside leaves the store.

A variety of other directives — ranging from signs warning people about social distancing and strict sanitation practices, to a curfew and statements from essential businesses for their employees out during curfew hours — won’t go into effect until 11 p.m. Monday.

Topping that list will be a curfew for everyone, to be imposed between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. That means unless you are an employee for an essential business or operation, you cannot be on the streets between these hours except for emergencies.

Fortenbaugh, who voted no, questioned why it was necessary, because there already is a curfew in City Code (residents under the age of 18 are not allowed on the street between midnight and 5 a.m., except for specific instances such as jobs or when accompanied by a parent) and a ban on more than six people gathering.

Burk said the issue addresses concerns by police about groups of youth who are meeting in different places every night. The only option is to warn the youth to disband because there is no penalty, Burk said, adding a curfew provides “teeth” to enforce the ban.

People who are out during curfew hours also are advised to carry letters from their employers on company letterhead, saying they are an employee of an essential business. Burk said the intent is to emphasize that people who don’t need to be out of their homes shouldn’t be.

“We’re not going to pull over every person,” Burk said.

Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said the letter isn’t a travel document from the government, but rather a letter from an employer saying that person needs to be out during curfew.

The council also agreed with Booker’s directive to strengthen the social gathering restriction, lowering what had allowed up to 10 people to be in one public place (as long as they observe social distancing guidelines) to six people. Council members made an exception for funerals, which still may have to up 10 people in attendance.

Other mandates to go into effect Monday include those keyed toward keeping residents safe while they are using essential businesses. Council members put off those mandates to give businesses time to comply, although Booker and others said many businesses already have adopted the regulations — to include installing sneeze guards to protect employees and customers from close contact.

Booker, acknowledging the problems some businesses are having securing plastic glass for that screening, said he has told people that makeshift arrangements — such as plastic wrap — are acceptable. Assistant City Manager Bart Hadley said the requirement only covers indoor points of contact; outside settings, such as drive-throughs, are not included because other measures can be used.

Other proposals include signs warning customers to adhere to social distancing; requiring businesses with wheeled carts to implement a one person, one cart rule to discourage multiple people from shopping together; requiring aisles in stores to be one-way, to encourage social distancing; and making sanitation wipes/paper towels available at places such as cash registers and gasoline pumps.

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