(Photo by Michael Kinney)
By Michael Kinney
When Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday his Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS) plan, it caught many of the state’s residents and city officials off-guard. The three-phased approach sets the stage for the opening of Oklahoma’s economy after the spread of COVID-19.
Phase one of OURS went into effect April 24 with the opening of select businesses under strict conditions. They included personal care businesses, such as hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons and pet groomers. They were given the all clear to reopen for appointments only and under specific guidelines.
“This careful and measured approach is designed to protect our most vulnerable from COVID19 while safely easing most Oklahomans back to work,” Stitt said. “Under current White House guidelines, Oklahoma has met all necessary criteria to begin proceeding to a phased opening. This includes a downward trajectory of documented cases and the ability to treat all patients without crisis care.”
However, while Stitt’s announcement had its critics and fans, it put the mayors of every city in a tough situation. They now had to decide whether to follow Stitt’s recommendation to open up on April 24 or to keep their shelter in place proclamation in effect.
Several cities across the state made the same decision. They include Del City, Lawton, Mustang, Midwest City, Yukon, Moore, Ponca City and Shawnee.
“I personally feel if salons will be open, everything could be open with the same rules in place,” said Tiffany Claborn of Teeze Total Salon. “I’m glad to be able to work. However, I don’t think salons should have been in the first phase to open.”
The mayors of Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Stillwater and Edmond all made the decision to keep their shelter in place ordinances intact for now.
As of Friday the state accounted for 3, 121 cases of COVID-19. Of those, 188 have ended in death.
“We don’t have that testing capacity right now,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said. “So it’s very, very dangerous to open without it. We need to get to a position where we’re proactive, not just reactive.”
Businesses that fit the phase one criteria were having to decide if they were ready to open their doors to customers again after being closed since March 24.
However, because the reopening announcement happened so quick, not all businesses that are eligible to get back to work chose to do so.
Marina Peterson, the owner of Native Roots Salon in Lawton, had been seeking a timetable from Lawton Mayor Stan Booker on when salons would be able to reopen was not ready for Thursday’s announcement.
“I choose not to open Friday,” Peterson said. “I couldn’t prepare my place with the requirements the city council and the Oklahoma state board has put out. I feel for the safety of my staff and clients we needed the additional time.”
Along with the standard 6-foot social distancing guidelines, other requirements for salons and barbershops include using disinfectants and sanitation products approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Cosmetology and Barbering and cleaning and disinfecting tools regularly.
Owners are also being asked to perform temperature checks employees each day with a touchless infrared thermometer. Any employee who has a high temperature are supposed to be sent home immediately.
Peterson said one of the reasons she was unable to open was because she was unable to find a touchless thermometer.
“We can’t locate a touchless thermometer because they were all sold out locally,” said Peterson.
Claborn says they have the same issues and had to put off opening Friday as well.
“It will take some time to get all of the new regulations in place,” Claborn said. “We have to order a sneeze guard, a no-touch thermometer, we are waiting on clarification on how many stylists and customers that we can have at one time. The city issued conflicting information. Once all of that is in place, we will determine the schedules and allow customers to book at that time.”
Both Peterson and Claborn said their salons are looking at hopefully opening May 1st.
While larger shops like Native Roots may have had a tougher time opening at such a fast pace, that was not the case for the Elevation Grooming Studio in Del City. Owned and operated by a DeAngelo Payne, the one-man operation made it simple to get back to work Friday morning. Del City’s guidelines are also not as strict as Lawton.
Payne wore a mask and gloves while working on his customers and has hand sanitizer situated around his shop.
Payne is taking the needed precautions and only taking appointments. Yet, he also seems to believe Oklahoma has hit its peak of COVID-19 cases.
“I’m not too worried about it,” Payne said. “We have been closed for so long, that if any of my customers were going to catch it, they would have done it by now.”
“Our constituents are following our guidelines along with other major cities of Oklahoma,” Clark said. “It just gets really frustrating because now our first responders in response to the confusion are going out and educating businesses who have opened.”