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City of Stillwater implements new restrictions on bars

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The Union on Washington Street. The sun goes down on Washington Street, "The Strip" on August 19, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

On Wednesday, Mayor William Joyce declared a state of emergency for Stillwater requiring bars to only serve patrons that are seated and to maintain a maximum occupancy of 50% capacity.

Stillwater has been under a state of emergency since March 15th, but this declaration is unique because it is the first to label a violation of the order as a Class “A” offense. 

According to the city's Code of Ordinances, a Class “A” offense “shall be punished by a fine not exceeding $750.00 and costs, and/or by imprisonment not exceeding 60 days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Despite this, Oklahoma State Senior Shonni Grady worries how the mandate will be enforced.

“I’m not really sure how they’re going to enforce this once people get into the bars,” Grady said on Twitter. “Are the bartenders going to be babysitters or will they hire more security?”

In addition to mandatory seating and lowered capacity, the declaration requires all dance floors and standing areas be closed but the areas may be used for more seating. All outdoor seating must meet the same requirements as indoor seating. 

Senior engineering major Greyson Wolf said he believes the new restrictions will be ineffective at best in response to a twitter poll by The O’Colly. 

“I think there will be a huge increase in house parties in response to this,” Wolf said. 

Councilor Alane Zannotti argues that these restrictions are the only way to keep bars open and that closing the bars would be worse.

“It would be more harmful to shut the bars down because it is a little bit harder on private property to police parties that happen,” Zannotti said. “In a public area obviously the city has jurisdiction. You run into more of a privacy issue when it is on private property.”

While the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 at bars is still being debated, the declaration made it clear that there has been an increase in cases because of the lack of safety measures at these establishments. 

“The Payne County Health Department reports that contact tracing has linked much of this exposure to congregation of persons within this demographic [persons between 18-25 years of age] in bars and large unorganized gatherings where those attending did not exercise social and physical distancing or wear face coverings,” according to the emergency declaration.

Wednesday evening, OSU President Burns Hargis sent out an email telling students if they attend a large social gathering where safety measures are not present, they must quarantine for 14 days and get a COVID-19 test. 

“According to the World Health Organization, most of the spread of COVID-19 is by asymptomatic young adults, so I ask each of you to do your part to protect our campus and the local community,” Hargis said.

According to the newest declaration, the city allowed previous emergency orders to expire and the relaxation of restrictions has resulted in an increase of positive cases. On June 8th, there were 22 reported cases. As of Monday, there are 632 cases, 81 of those being active. 

The emergency declaration will expire on Nov. 30 unless otherwise extended, rescinded, or amended.