Coronavirus in Oklahoma: City 'paying close attention' to coronavirus developments
Mayor David Holt on Thursday encouraged Oklahoma City residents to be proactive in adopting habits to limit the spread of coronavirus.
While "you can’t keep a virus from entering your community any more than you can keep a tornado out," he said, good individual decision-making makes a difference.
Follow health experts' recommendations to avoid close contact — practicing "social distance" — and keep up with hand-washing and other strategies for personal hygiene, he said.
"Control what you can control," Holt said, noting that by early afternoon, no local spread of coronavirus had been documented.
"If everybody did that we would be in an infinitely better position moving forward," he said. "We need to get there together and we will."
City Hall executives were assessing staffing needs, updating information as it comes in, and paying close attention to the pandemic's potential to affect the budget.
'All hands on deck'
The mayor was home Wednesday night planning to watch the Thunder-Jazz game on television when word came from Chesapeake Energy Arena that the game was postponed.
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Holt said it was "all hands on deck, everybody played their role” as city officials gathered to assess the news.
He said he went to the City-County Health Department, staying until past midnight.
The city updated developments throughout the day Thursday at okc.gov.
Budget executives had the latest data showing sales tax, the city's single-largest revenue source, increased from this time last year.
But this week's numbers detail retail activity before coronavirus concerns deepened, financial markets went into a tailspin and the first positive tests were confirmed in the city.
"We have the benefit of having built up strong operating reserves of over 21 percent in the general fund (the primary account for day-to-day operations) over the last several years," said Doug Dowler, the budget director.
He said the cushion "allows us to respond to changes in our financial situation in a measured and responsible way."
Firefighters followed routinely heightened protocols for handling medical emergencies while Embark transit was stepping up bus, streetcar and ticket machine cleaning.
Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson, the fire department's public information officer, said firefighters always take potentially hazardous situations seriously.
The department expects to respond to around 60,000 medical calls this year, or an average of 164 per day.
"We have always considered any patient we … assist as potentially infectious," Fulkerson said. "Our protocol already dictates that we wear specific personal protective equipment on medical calls or other instances where we may make contact with a patient or bodily fluids.
"We are more mindful right now with the current threat," he said.
The department tries to minimize the number of personnel who actually interact with patients, and firefighters try to do so from a distance when they can.
"If we can communicate from beside them instead of in front of them, for instance, that is something to consider," Fulkerson said.
Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning
Embark, the city's public transit agency, said it was increasing the frequency of bus cleaning to twice per week or more often for each of the 90 buses in the fleet.
The seven OKC Streetcars are disinfected at least daily. Ticket kiosks, benches and other surfaces at the streetcar platforms were also being cleaned with disinfectant.
"We are leveraging insights gained from our local health officials and experiences from transportation agencies nationwide," said Jason Ferbrache, Embark administrator.
Downtown's Transit Center was being cleaned up to five times daily, with continual attention to "high touch" areas such as handrails and counters.
Considering tax revenues
Assessing the budget and sales tax, Oklahoma City received $36.1 million from the state Tax Commission this month, up 1.4% from March 2019.
The figures reflect retail activity the last two weeks of January and first two weeks of February, and could be read as confirmation that consumer sentiment is modestly positive.
A projected slowdown in the rate of growth through late winter and early spring remains likely, though, given the trend.
Dowler said the March check "doesn’t change our outlook for how we will finish the current year or what we are projecting for next year."
City Manager Craig Freeman has directed most department heads to reduce general fund spending 2.25% from an adjusted base for 2020-21, less for police and fire.
Holt said it was a time to be conscious of personal habits and personal space "and still live our lives, with adjustments."