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At this week’s meeting of the City Council of Oklahoma City, one council member surprised some at what seemed to be callous comments about COVID-19 deaths.

At the end of the Council meeting during the Comments from Council period, Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner said that he believed shelter-in-place orders should not be extended past April.

The normally reticent Councilman said that the current orders locally are scheduled to end on April 30, “and that’s when I think they should end.” Greiner went on to say, “I don’t think we can sustain this economically long term.”

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“Collateral damage”

“The virus is killing tens of thousands of people in this country while we are taking these extreme measures trying to prevent it,” Greiner continued. “So, the worst-case scenarios that I’ve seen if we do very little and not the extreme measures is 200,000 [dead in the U.S.], now that’s obviously a guess.”

“I think that the collateral damage that our attempts to prevent all of this has caused 15 million people to be unemployed. I’ve seen a report that says it might be 16% unemployment by July, and that’s obviously a guess too,” said Greiner.

“I also think we’re not preparing ourselves for when it comes back through herd immunity.”

He concluded with, “I think all businesses should be able to be open if they choose [as of May 1] so that we can get Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the country back to work. To be clear, I don’t think we should have done nothing, but I think the media and all of the government policies have caused more damage than the virus would have if we would have just taken more reasonable personal precautions.”

It was an unusually long and pointed set of comments from the Councilman who seldom speaks up except to ask a clarifying question. Sometimes he passes during the Comments from Council time.

COVID-19
Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner (foreground) listens to a presentation during an Oklahoma City Council meeting in 2019. Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper is sitting next to him. (file, Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Attempts to contact Greiner by phone and email for further comment were unsuccessful.

“Listening to scientists”

The next comments offered by Council were from Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper.

Cooper’s comments centered on the statement, “We are not listening to our guts, we’re listening to scientists!” He seemed to be responding to Greiner’s comments made just before although he did not call Greiner by name.

“Double down”

“I would double down on what I said yesterday,” Cooper told Free Press by phone Wednesday. “Any plan to reopen our city–its small businesses, and it’s big businesses, send kids back to school – any plan that doesn’t include plans to crush, not just flatten the curve – must include the five points I laid out yesterday.”

Cooper went back over bullet points he used in the City Council Tuesday.

  • Mass testing, not just nationally, but in Oklahoma City and in Ward 2.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) adequate for those administering that testing.
  • Investing in individuals to stay at home during this crisis.
  • Further investing in small businesses so they can weather this storm.
  • And finally, a congressional package to address these things so that everyone from 18 years of age to the oldest voter knows how to vote in November.

“As a Council and City, we must continue to let science be our guide,” Cooper told us. “That means listening to the experts: epidemiologists, the Department of Health, the City-County Health Department, and other public health officials.”

Mayor’s plans

Free Press reached out to Mayor David Holt Wednesday for a response to what Greiner was proposing.

“April 30 presents a decision point because that’s when all current proclamations expire, but it is obviously an arbitrary date,” Mayor Holt told us in a message. “Having said that, it’s not irrational to discuss a new phase because we can tentatively observe some plateauing in the numbers.”

Holt left several open ends in his next comments.

“So we’re all talking – the Governor, Tulsa, our City-County Health Department – about the next chapter. We’ll listen to public health officials at the local, state and federal levels and we’ll do what we think is best to save lives.”


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