EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order Tuesday shuttering non-essential businesses in counties with positive COVID-19 cases. His order pre-empts Ada’s ordinance allowing businesses to stay open as long as they meet certain restrictions, which was approved Monday night.

After more than four hours of debate, the Ada City Council approved an ordinance Monday that would have allowed non-essential businesses to stay open as long as they took steps to protect public health.

The council unanimously approved the measure designed to promote social distancing and encourage people to stay home, a key step in the efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Following the vote, Mayor Tre’ Landrum urged the community to comply with the restrictions.

“We’re Ada, and this is something that we’ve got to do together,” he said. “I pray this is enough. I really do.

“To the medical community, we’re here, and we’re going to take care of this. We’re going to take care of you. I know some of the faith-based communities have some concerns here, and to you I’ll say the church is not your building. Show us you’re the church. Let’s take care of each other.”

The restrictions included:

• All businesses open to the public were limited to one customer for every 100 feet of space, or 50 percent of the business’ maximum occupancy.

• Beauty salons, barbershops, hair salons, tattoo and massage parlors and nail salons were allowed to open by appointment only, with no walk-in customers. The city required appointments to be spaced at least 15 minutes apart, and customers had to be separated by at least 6 feet. Only the customers who had scheduled appointments were allowed be present, and all work stations were supposed cleaned and sanitized before and after each use.

• Gyms and exercise and fitness facilities that offer classes were limited to 10 people per class, including instructors and coaches. Classes had to be spaced at least 15 minutes apart. Customers had to be separated by at least 6 feet, and all work stations were supposed to be sanitized and cleaned before and after each use.

• All in-person social, spiritual and recreational gatherings were banned, along with meetings that included more than 10 people, The prohibition did to employees or support services.

• Theaters, cinemas, indoor and outdoor performance venues, and museums were closed.

Businesses that failed to comply with the restrictions would have been fined $500 per occurrence, plus court costs. The restrictions did not apply to some businesses, including manufacturers, child care facilities, crisis shelters, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.

Additionally, the city encouraged all businesses to provide gel sanitizers or wipes for their customers, sanitize equipment and screen employees for temperature and symptoms associated with COVID-19. Restaurants were encouraged to offer food for take-out and delivery.

The ordinance would have remained in effect until 10 p.m. April 6 unless the council decided to extend it.

Closing businesses

The council met in the City Hall West Annex as usual, but the city limited the number of people in the room to 10 to comply with federal guidelines. Members of the press and the public stayed outside the building and watched the meeting on TV, and people who wanted to address the council were escorted into the building one at a time.

Several speakers urged the council to consider the economic impact of ordering businesses to close their doors.

Attorney George Braly said instead of closing businesses, the council should ask people who are most at risk of catching COVID-19 to quarantine themselves. He also said the council should ask people whose risk is lower to practice good hygiene, including washing their hands and practicing social distancing, but otherwise stick to their normal routine.

“If it’s done that way, here’s what this will accomplish,” Braly said. “If the at-risk people are protected from infection, then we don’t fill up the hospital with old people that have to go to the hospital for care, because they’re in quarantine.

“That prevents the calamity that Dr. Fauci and all the other CEOs and talking heads that are on TV are worried about, which is overwhelming the hospitals and forcing tents to be set up in parking lots or dormitories to be used as hospital wards.”

Braly also said shuttering businesses would lead to an economic catastrophe that could be avoided if the council urged people to take appropriate precautions. He added that the council could revisit the issue in two or three weeks.

Small-business owner Brad Heimer said the council should proceed with caution and not follow the lead of other cities that have shut down certain businesses.

“Let’s be a community that does something different,” he said. “Let’s not all run and close our doors and pretend to hide.”

But attorney and small-business owner Erik Johnson said he thought the city should take reasonable steps to protect public health.

“I don’t see that if a business can operate without having to interact with the public, that they should be required to close,” he said. “That’s an unreasonable exercise of this council’s police power.

“But a reasonable exercise of your police power — your duty to provide for the health, safety and general welfare of all citizens in our community — should indicate that we need to have some closing of our public places.”

Johnson said the council could evaluate the situation every 10 days and decide whether to take additional action.

Debating the issue

After hearing from several people, the council debated whether it should close all non-essential businesses or allow them to stay open if they met certain requirements.

Mayor Landrum said he was sensitive to the fact that closing certain businesses would hurt their bottom line, but he was also concerned about the possibility that COVID-19 cases would overwhelm Ada’s medical facilities and doctors.

“When you look at this whole ‘You’ve got to flatten the curve, you’ve got to flatten the curve,’ I’m telling you right here and right now, you can’t flatten this curve enough,” Landrum said. “You can’t do it.”

Councilman Guy Sewell favored closing all non-essential businesses for two weeks, then consider allowing them to reopen if they had a plan for protecting public health.

“If you’re a restaurant, you should not be serving customers,” Sewell said. “If you’re a gym, you should be shut down.”

But Councilman Bryan Morris said the council should not ignore the economic impact of forcing businesses to close their doors.

“I’m thinking of those people who live paycheck to paycheck,and even a two-week shutdown is going to be devastating to those people,” Morris said. “I think that right now, we need to keep as many businesses open as we can.”

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.

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