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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: 'People are staying home because they don't want to die,' mayor says

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Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17.
Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17.

These were Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt's remarks at his Friday, April 10, 2020, COVID-19 briefing with Dr. Patrick McGough, executive director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department:

"Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today. Although you
can always follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get
daily updates, I think it is also important to communicate this way
at least once a week during this pandemic. I’d like to provide some
updates today about the overall response here in Oklahoma City,
and then I’ll turn it over to Dr. Patrick McGough of the Oklahoma
City-County Health Department for some specific updates about
the public health response.

"As of today, in the Oklahoma City metro, which I define as
Oklahoma County, Cleveland County and Canadian County, we
have a cumulative total of 701 confirmed cases and 32 deaths. We
have had 14 more deaths since I stood before you just a week ago.
On behalf of the people of Oklahoma City, I send our deepest
condolences to the families of those we have lost.

"Before I get to some specific updates, I want to address at least two
big picture questions that I imagine are top of mind for you as we
all try to navigate this extraordinary moment in history. To those
two questions, I’ll try to deliver the best answers I can.

The first is, how are we doing?

"I feel this question may seem to have a murky answer because
numbers without context can be mind-numbing after awhile. And
our residents are hearing these staggering case numbers and
sobering death totals while at the same time they’re hearing
phrases like “cautious optimism.” It may seem as if these things
cannot co-exist, but in fact, in the context of COVID-19, they can.

"The short answer to the question of how we’re doing is that
relative to a normal virus, things are not going well at all, but
relative to what COVID-19 is capable of, we’re maybe doing okay.
Let me expand on that.

"COVID-19 is an extraordinarily impactful virus, and the world has
come to learn that no matter how much you try, it can’t be stopped
in its tracks. But you can limit its impact. In the state of
Oklahoma, despite social distancing measures in place that haven’t
been seen since 1918, we have suffered more deaths from COVID-
19 in just three weeks than we had seen from the flu this entire flu
season. By any normal measurement against normal viruses, we
would have to say this is not going well at all.

"But, at the same time, we know from experiences in other cities
around the nation and around the world, that the fallout from
COVID-19 can be far worse.

"Our 32 deaths in the OKC metro so far amount to about two deaths
for every 100,000 people who live here in our metro. In the
Lombardy region of Italy, a place that was hit hard and early by
COVID-19, there were 100 deaths for every 100,000 people living in
that region. In New York City, they have approximately 60 deaths
for every 100,000 people. Even closer to our backyard, in New
Orleans, just 700 miles from where we stand right now, they have
46 deaths for every 100,000 people. These staggering death tolls
in cities both near and far are why we have taken this seriously. It
is also why we can look at our own sobering death totals and
observe that it could be worse. We have some evidence to now
believe, with cautious optimism, that our social distancing is
working. We are suffering sickness and death far worse than we are used to when it comes to viruses, but we have thus far staved
off the worst that COVID-19 can bring. And for that, I say, good

"Having said that, this past week we have also suffered some of our
deadliest days and our biggest jumps in confirmed cases. Since I
stood before you a week ago, our case total and our death total
have nearly doubled. We are right in the middle of this fight
against COVID-19, and it is no time to relax our efforts.

"This brings me to the second big picture question I expect is on
your mind – when does this all end? In a sense, I don’t know the
answer. I can’t possibly know the answer, but I’ll share what I do

"As I discussed last week, I think we’ve all gone through a kind of
grief as we grieved the way of life we knew prior to COVID-19. I
suppose we all get through the stages of grief at a different time.
And though many of us have worked our way to acceptance, I
recognize not all of us have. There are still those who want to
think we can somehow choose to end this, or that everything
would just return to normal if the politicians would let it. As far as
that goes, let me tell you, most people staying home are not doing
so because of my proclamation. By far the most powerful
proclamation is the one written by the virus. People are staying
home because they don’t want to die. Those who have listened to
the data I have shared or have taken time to do their own research
understand we are living through a one-hundred year pandemic.

"They’ve seen the numbers I cited earlier from places as far flung as
Italy and as nearby as New Orleans. They understand this is unlike
anything we have faced in our lifetime. The virus is contagious and it is deadly. And it is working its way through our city right now.

"The government could lift restrictions tomorrow, but who in their
right mind would change their behavior even one iota?

"Here is what I know – Serious discussions about life returning to
normal can’t really begin until the virus’s spread has significantly
lessened. And also, life almost surely won’t return to what we
remember as normal for a very long time. It may be that once we
pass the peak of this virus, and when testing is far more abundant
than it is now, society will begin to take some cautious steps
forward. Calculated, targeted steps. But it will almost surely be
gradual. Some of the highest-risk locations and activities may not
return to normalcy for many months. And that will probably have
very little to do with what government officials are saying. It will
be common sense. It will be guided by science. Here in
Oklahoma City, we will listen to the CDC, we will listen to our local
public health officials and we will follow the best science that the
world has to offer. And we will prioritize life.

"Today, in Oklahoma City, we are right in the middle of this fight.
We are sheltering in place through at least the month of April. I
want normalcy just as much as you do. But no proclamation is
going to bring normalcy.

"Every single one of us is a part of this fight. We each have a role to
play. For most of us, that role is simple. Stay home, except for
essential employment, essential errands and outdoor exercise. And
if you do go shopping, if it is at all possible, please shop alone. I
commend the many essential retail establishments that this past
week have put stringent social distancing measures in place. I urge
all essential retail to follow suit. And if you have to be in public, please wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social
distancing measures can be difficult to maintain. But please do not
take a false sense of security from your mask. Continue to keep
your distance. And of course, if you are outside your home for any
reason, whether it be an essential errand, employment, or physical
exercise, keep your distance.

"To the extent you can, let’s enjoy the best that this new normal has
to offer. Keep enjoying family movie nights, family dance parties,
Facetime reunions and neighborhood walks. And let’s continue to
think of those on the front lines of this pandemic, who are called
upon to do much more than just stay home.

"We are all so grateful to the people who are bearing the load of
this pandemic in ways we can only imagine. Thank you to those
whose economic sacrifice is saving lives. Thank you to the doctors,
nurses, PAs, nurse techs, pharmacists, home healthcare workers,
EMSA workers, nursing home and assisted living workers, hospital
workers, medical researchers, mental health workers, and all those
in the health care field. Thank you to the teachers, the school
administrators, the school support staff and school nutrition
workers. Thank you to the grocery workers, the restaurant
workers, the grocery shoppers, the food delivery drivers, farmers
and ranchers. Thank you to all law enforcement, fire fighters, and
working in the field of domestic violence. Thank you to e-
commerce workers, the truck drivers, postal workers and all
delivery drivers. Thank you to food bank workers and volunteers.
Thank you to the public health officials and elected officials and
government workers across the board, including utility workers
who keep our water and sewers functioning, or pick up the trash,
or operate public transit. Thank you to electric utility, telecommunication and IT workers. Thank you to plumbers and
electricians. Thank you to the members of the media bringing us
so much important information. Thank you to faith leaders
working to tend to our spiritual health. Thank you to cleaning staff
across our city who often do their important task after everyone
else has gone home. Thank you to the chambers of commerce and
other associations and government employees working to support
our small businesses or those who are unemployed. Thank you to
nonprofit staff and especially those supporting those living on the
fringes, especially those experiencing homelessness. Thank you to
bank staff, gas station employees, auto repair workers. Thank
you to all those who take risks each day to ensure that the rest of
can stay at home.

"This week, the Oklahoma City National Memorial relaunched the
Oklahoma Standard. This concept was first created organically in
the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Today, the
Memorial works to remind people of the values that are its
foundation. Those values are service, honor and kindness, and I
can think of no better reflection of those values than the work that
is being done by all of the people I just mentioned. Let’s follow
their example in our own ways and in our own lives.

"Let me leave you with another reminder of what we fight for.
Richard Walts passed from COVID-19 this past week. He was a
career firefighter known across the state’s firefighting community.
He helped found the State Firefighters Museum that I can see out
the windows of this building. His son Patrick wrote about his father
this week. Patrick wrote that his father’s integrity was
“unwavering.” He spoke of how proud he was of his dad.
Patrick’s mother was able to be with Richard when he passed, because she too has COVID-19, but Patrick had to say goodbye to
his father over FaceTime. In a letter he posted online, Patrick
wrote 'Please, be careful out there people. You don’t want this.'

"Indeed, you don’t. We have worked every day to put in place the
infrastructure so that you don’t have to suffer the terrible effects of
COVID-19. Please take this seriously. Please shelter in place and
let’s all get to the next chapter of our city’s story together.

"And finally, to all those celebrating Passover or Easter this
weekend, I send my sincere best wishes. This is a community with
a strong faith. That faith will help lead us through this pandemic,
and ultimately we will emerge with a stronger faith and a stronger
love for each other."

Related Photos
Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17.

Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17.

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-674f7fec59c07fbcb5d86ed502fbeb6d.jpg" alt="Photo - Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17." title="Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17."><figcaption>Mayor David Holt first announced emergency measures to contain coronavirus spread on March 17.</figcaption></figure>
William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman. Read more ›