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Mayor David Holt declared a state of emergency for the City of Oklahoma City Sunday afternoon in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a community spread case in the city.

The news conference was held at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department with Executive Director Patrick McGough and Epidemiologist Eddie Withers taking turns with Holt explaining the particulars that brought about the declaration.

Rapid developments

Holt recalled that 48 hours before that a confirmed case of COVID-19 had been confirmed but transmitted to the individual elsewhere.

“This afternoon, we have reached another inflection point in this journey,” Holt said.

Now a case has been reported in the City limits in Cleveland County believed to have been transmitted locally in the community.

“Local public health officials have consistently maintained that this was the threshold that should trigger even more proactive measures to protect public health,” said Holt.

Holt said that city staff have worked with the City-County Health Department staff to manage the City’s response to the pandemic.

“On the advice of the City-County Health Department that this is a local public health emergency without precedent in the last half-century, and under the authority granted me by section 1536 through 38 of the Oklahoma city ordinances, I will be declaring a state of emergency in Oklahoma City,” the Holt said.

The formal document is being drafted and will be filed with City Clerk Frances Kersey Monday morning.

Focus on City

The Mayor will be limiting his exercise of emergency powers by focusing on City government permitted and sponsored events and gatherings.

All event permits will be revoked if they were issued to be used through April 12.

Events and gatherings in City facilities for over 50 people will be revoked through April 12.

“All actions to preserve public health in Oklahoma City are on the table,” said Holt.

“I do not proclaim the state of emergency casually. And I am fully aware of the gravity of the moment. But this is a time to protect the people of Oklahoma City. That is the fundamental foundation of the oath I took. And that is the obligation I work to fulfill today.”

Also, Holt is instituting a freeze on all water service cutoffs to city residents for nonpayment of their water bill.

This move comes after the city has found itself the focus of concern about water being cut off just when families are being encouraged to practice handwashing to control the coronavirus.

Private sector?

Even though today’s declaration was focused on City events and gatherings, Holt held open the possibility that it could extend to the private sector in the future, emergency statutes allow.

“We may assert the authority that other leaders around the country have done to regulate the private sector, that’s also a power the governor could have as well,” said Holt.

After the news conference, Free Press asked Holt for more comments about his emergency powers extending top the private sector.

“So obviously, I’m cognizant of the way it affects people. So I’m not I don’t want to do anything casually or unnecessarily,” Holt said. “But if regulation in the private sector ultimately is viewed by our public health officials as what is necessary, then that’s what I shall do.”

Health officials confirm

Oklahoma City-County Health Department Executive Director Patrick McGough confirmed that the emergency declaration was “the right thing to do now that we have evidence of local spread in the metro.”

“If you are immunocompromised or over the age of 60 please take today’s warning seriously. You are at higher risk of complications if you’re exposed to COVID-19,” said McGough. “And the only way proven to protect yourself is to stay away from groups of people or individuals who may have symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus.”

Withers, McGough, Holt
L-R, Epidemiologist Eddie Withers, OKC-County Health Executive Director Patrick McGough, and Mayor David Holt hold a news conference Sunday, 3-15-20 to announce an emergency declaration for the City of Oklahoma City in response to advances of COVID-19. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Eddie Withers, Oklahoma City-County epidemiologist, said that it was time for everyone to start thinking about “controlling what you can control,” which is staying away from groups and engaging in thorough hand-washing.

“It just is one of those things where everybody should understand that coronavirus is here,” said Withers. “I think we can all agree that we knew this was going to happen. And now is the time to just start taking the appropriate actions to keep it from spreading.”

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) page with information and videos demonstrating proper hand-washing and other prevention techniques can be found HERE.


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