3 minute read

According to Mayor David Holt, the only health department codes The City of Oklahoma City has to work with are state-level health laws that were not written anticipating a pandemic.

And, the Oklahoma Legislature did not pass any further laws that addressed the pandemic before they adjourned in May.

There are growing concerns in the metro about large gatherings, especially concerning closed spaces like bars where regular customers are so accustomed to being physically close while enjoying a drink.

As Oklahoma City reopened business in phases, it seemed the easiest thing for people to believe that it was back to the same business as before rather than the social distancing Holt has called for all along.

Slip-ups

To show how easy it is to slip into old ways, in the first week of May when distancing restrictions were much tighter, one Oklahoma City resident posted this to Twitter during Cinco de Mayo just days after Holt issued a (then) new emergency declaration April 29 with specific requirements to achieve distancing in foodservice establishments.

Oklahoma City Police were called by concerned residents to Kong’s Tavern, 1012 N. Walker Ave., earlier in the evening before this photo was taken. The officers who responded found the bar to be in compliance with the rules of the emergency declaration.

However, this photo was taken hours later and by the behaviors shown, could have been taken any time in 2019. Patrons frustrated by being shut in and out of their favorite hang-outs for over a month were ready to go back to their old ways.

Kong’s management said they lost control of the growing crowd that overwhelmed their distancing measures as the evening went on and vowed to make changes in the future.

Health codes?

Free Press asked the Mayor about what codes he has to possibly close bars that continue to put the city’s health at risk by allowing large throngs of people to pack in.

For example, the state of New York that has been hit hard by the pandemic has threatened to revoke liquor licenses and shutter bars and restaurants that do not comply with their reopening mandates.

Holt responded in a series of messages to our follow-up questions after the news conference was over.

He said that after our questions at the end of the news conference about what health codes might be used, he and Dr. Patrick McGough, executive director of Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD), discussed the issue further.

Withers, McGough, Holt
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. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

“So, Dr McGough said afterward that what you and I know as ‘health codes’ are actually state laws,” wrote Holt. “There are no ‘health codes’ that relate to the pandemic.”

“OCCHD can call people and urge them to do better but the Leg[islature] has not passed any health codes relative to the pandemic.”

Holt said that the only type of mandate that was available to him was the emergency order that he used for the second phase of reopening where specific distancing restrictions were put in place.

But, the only way to enforce the emergency order was to have the police write a citation, Holt said. No health inspectors could go to a restaurant or bar and close them down for violations.

Holt did say that if the numbers got worse, “that’s something we would certainly look at if we roll back a phase.”

“Probably a fair statement that emergency proclamations are a highly imperfect remedy for pandemic regulation on a long term basis,” Holt concluded.


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