State, city impose emergency measures

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Shortly after an Airman at Altus Air Force Base was diagnosed with the coronavirus on March 12, the Altus Public Schools took immediate action to cancel classes on Friday the 13th to minimize the possible spread of the virus. That’s just one day before the district would start its scheduled spring break.

By Monday, the Altus City Council met in an emergency session to vote on extending a mayoral proclamation that the city is in a state of emergency.

Vice-Mayor Robert Garrison signed the state of emergency proclamation at the end of Monday’s meeting, and the Altus City Council voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency at least until its next regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 7. The mayor or acting mayor can only sign a 48-hour emergency proclamation and the city council can vote to extend it further.

Mayor Jack Smiley was not at the meeting but was on a speakerphone answering questions. State Sen. Brent Howard introduced and the State Senate passed a bill Tuesday to allow remote meetings during the coronavirus threat (see separate story.)

Smiley recommended the city adhere to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control which changes recommendations based on the status of the virus on a daily basis. Last week, it was recommended not to gather more than 50 people at one time. By Monday, that had been reduced to 10.

While the city passed the attached proclamation, the details were left to the city manager to meet with local health officials to make guidelines and pass them to local businesses and restaurants. Those emergency orders are attached to this story.

During the emergency city council meeting, two local restaurant owners said they were in favor of providing social distancing during meals, but said it would have a negative impact on their businesses. They also said many people rely on their restaurants to provide at least take-out service.

Scot Simco, owner of Val’s Restaurant and Pub, said he had been enforcing a six-member group limit per table and setting them off by at least 10 feet from other groups.

Meanwhile, the Altus Public Schools has announced the schools will be closed until Monday, April 6, as a precautionary move. The State Board of Education authorized the closing of all public schools on Monday until April 6. The Altus Public Schools has also canceled all student activities and extra-curricular activities until that date.

The district’s Child Nutrition Program will provide a mobile feeding program for any children 0-18 years old. This will begin on March 23 and will run Monday – Friday both weeks. More information on the schedule and locations will be released later in the week.

In a rapidly changing story, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order declaring an emergency in all 77 counties on Sunday.

By declaring an emergency, state agencies may make necessary emergency purchases or hires; small businesses are able to apply for low-interest federal loans; and certain restrictions are temporarily lifted on hospitals and other health care providers in order to treat patients effectively, a press release from the governor’s office stated.

As of Tuesday, Rosalyn Hall, the State Department of Health’s Local Emergency Response Coordinator for Jackson County and nine other counties in southwest Oklahoma, released an update on the coronavirus cases in the state. There were 10 positive cases for COVID-19, the official name of the coronavirus that had killed 41 Americans as of March 15. The Airman at Altus Air Force Base was the only positive case in Jackson County.

According to a news release from the U.S. Air Force, an Airman stationed at Altus Air Force Base contracted COVID-19 while on leave in the Seattle, Washington area and tested positive after returning to the base.

“Right now we have one confirmed case of COVID-19 on our installation,” said Col. Matthew Leard, 97th Air Mobility Wing commander. “The health and safety of our Airmen and families is our top priority. We will continue to work with our interagency partners to ensure we do everything we can to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 and ensure our Airmen have the most up-to-date information on appropriate measures to prevent the potential spread of the virus.”

After the schools were closed for Friday, shoppers bought all of the toilet paper available at local stores. At the United store in Altus, they issued a sign saying there was a limit of two packages per customer. On Monday, they were out of toilet paper and waiting for resupply.

Toilet paper became such a scarce commodity, some people were stealing toilet paper from public restrooms. On Friday, county custodians put out five rolls at each restroom in the Jackson County Courthouse, and they were all gone within an hour, according to County Commissioner Kirk Butler.

People were also emptying store shelves of food products they could stock up on for the long haul.

Some banks closed their lobbies and just accepted money through drive-thru sites. ATM machines were still operational. Known bank lobby closures included Frazer Bank, NBC Bank and Herring Bank.

The Altus Public Library closed at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and is scheduled to reopen on Monday, April 6, at 10 a.m.

Some churches were also limiting services.

The Altus Times will keep the public informed of new information at its Facebook site.

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