Area officials on Tuesday, March 31, announced the number of local COVID-19 cases has doubled over the past few days, and responded with an executive order that tightens restrictions on the partial lockdown and sets a curfew.
Tahlequah Mayor Sue Catron said the amended order is intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the city and county. Her announcement was made during a streaming video following an emergency Tahlequah City Council meeting.
Police Chief Nate King touched on new orders city councilors approved during that meeting, and what this means for the community.
“There’s been quite a bit of urging in our task force meetings over the past week or so for those members, along with health care officials, to take further action [based on] what we’re seeing at the state level,” said King.
The council amended an ordinance to grant emergency powers to the mayor and councilors, which provides penalties and enforcement, along with declaring an emergency.
“The executive order today issued by Mayor Sue Catron is a 'shelter in place' order ... and will go into effect at 11:59 p.m. on April 1,” said King. “Residents may leave their homes at that time for essential activities.”
Essential activities include getting medical supplies, food, beverages, or other items needed to maintain a sanitary and safe household. Engagement in outdoor activity is encouraged, as long as individuals comply with social distancing requirements.
“You can go walking, biking, hiking, but you need to maintain a 6-foot distance with those people who do not live in the same house as you,” said King. “You can also work at essential businesses, which is per the latest governor’s orders.”
The order said individuals can care for and transport a family member or pets to and from another residence, and can move to another residence either in or outside the city limits.
The amended order includes a public safety curfew in effect from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until the order expires.
“Businesses will comply to the best of their ability with social distancing, and I know from both professional and personal experience that many businesses are implementing things within their stores to help with that,” said King. “Non-essential businesses will cease all in-person activities other than maintenance and preservation of inventory and the like."
All city-owned sports courts, golf courses, and sports fields will be closed, and use of any fitness or playground equipment, or shelter within the parks is prohibited. Park facilities and walking trails can remain open, though users must maintain that physical distance of 6 feet, King said.
The ordinance imposes a penalty for violating the executive order, which carries up to 10 days in the city jail and up to a $500 fine.
“Now from a police department standpoint, we’re not going to be out in riot gear, walking the sidewalks, or pulling you over at 10:30 at night and ask you where you’re going, what you’re doing, and ordering you back into your home at gunpoint," King said.
He said his department is going to use "selective force" and limit contact with "offenders."
“This isn’t something that has been taken lightly — the executive order and the ordinance passed today. It's to protect our community,” said King. “Mid-last week, we had one confirmed case in Cherokee County. The [state] Department of Health showed that we have four cases right now, but in talking to our hospitals, we have 15 positive tests in Tahlequah.”
King said that doesn’t mean those 15 people live in Tahlequah, but they were in the city to be tested.
District 2 Cherokee County Commissioner Mike Brown urged residents to follow the executive order and the ordinance.
“This is a deadly deadly virus that has no age barrier right now. We’ve got 4-year-olds — not in Cherokee County, but in the state of Oklahoma,” said Brown. “Follow this, as long as this is in effect, and we can get through this and we can flatten this curve if everybody pulls together at this time.”
Brown said businesses like Walmart and Reasor’s will remain open for procuring essentials, but customers cannot congregate and visit.
The courthouse is open to employees only, and visitors must contact the appropriate offices via phone or email to conduct business.
State Rep. Matt Meredith commended local officials for amending the order and added that he would like to see state officials take the same steps.