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Today, on a day when the national death toll from coronavirus exceeded 50,000, Gov. Kevin Stitt opened barbershops, hair salons, nail salons, and pet grooming services in Oklahoma.

Opinion
George Lang is the opinion writer for Free Press. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

One week from now, Stitt will lift restrictions on gyms, churches, restaurants, sports venues, and movie theaters, because it will suddenly be just fine to sit close together and breathe on strangers.

As an adult who likes to live and hopes to continue, I will not be joining the impatient masses as they resume their workouts and slide into pews. I will not be eating in restaurants, nor will I grab some popcorn and settle into stadium seating to see Trolls: World Tour or whatever. I am settling into the comparably safe life of a hermit.

Part of the reason is simple: the mayors of our state’s largest cities are holding true to their original declarations on COVID-19 safety, so we can thank Oklahoma City mayor David Holt, Breaa Clark of Norman and G.T. Bynum of Tulsa for staying strong and smart in the face of mounting pressure from the business community and people who don’t understand the microscopic world of viruses.

Opinion

From George Lang, our lead opinion columnist

It’s not that I am an alarmist or that I hold consistently apocalyptic viewpoints. I am staying home because to do otherwise might kill me.

Five months ago, I underwent open-heart surgery. It was major and unexpected, and I’m recovering nicely from the most traumatic health scare of my life. But even with my steady improvement, I am not even close to 100 percent, and every doctor in my life right now has told me to take extra precautions. My wife, who lives every day with rheumatoid arthritis, is more immunocompromised than I am. We’re a fun couple right now.

All of this is why I’m staying away: I do not trust everyone uniformly to do the right thing. As the last two weeks of astroturfed protests against state governments makes all too clear, there are swaths of our nation that believe that COVID-19 was a hoax. Yes, 119 years after the first discovery of human viruses, these people do not believe in what they cannot see, and so they want to go to church.

Stitt, who speaks more frequently about the health of Oklahoma’s economy than he does about the health of his state’s residents, somehow believes that Oklahomans are monolithic in how they avoid risk of infection and follow guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the father of a former toddler, I know that the first few years of human life are caked in snot, drool, and other effluvia, and it does not stop during grade school with some people. We are a nation of nose-rubbing, mouth-wiping germ buses that do not always wash their hands in restaurant bathrooms.

We have come a long way since the Black Death in terms of hygiene, but some of us are still pretty gross. Honestly, I rub my face so much you would think my head was a genie’s bottle.

But there are far more concrete reasons why Oklahoma is not ready for chip dipping and body shots. Even the White House is saying that states should not start staged reopenings until they have experienced 14 days of steady declines in case numbers. Stitt issued his latest order one day after a two-day spike in infections in which 208 new cases were discovered, so with only one day of decline behind him, Stitt made his move.

Additionally, a new poll from HuffPost and YouGov reports that the vast majority of people nationwide — 78 percent — believe that statewide shelter-in-place orders are the right thing to do, and 86 percent of those polled are trying to stay home as much as possible. As a nation, most of us choose to act like adults and avoid possible infectious contact. But as part of the 86 percent, I worry about the remaining 14 percent.

Also, there is just insufficient data to support an early opening. Oklahoma ranks 47th in COVID-19 testing, which means there are a fair number of us who might be asymptomatic carriers, but we do not know because relatively few Oklahomans have been tested for the virus.

I do not want to be in this house forever. I want to enjoy life in Oklahoma City again. I hate that we cannot attend the Norman Music Festival or Festival of the Arts this weekend or run in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. These are important events in the lives of central Oklahoma residents.

But be patient, or you will be a patient.


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