During Monday evening's meeting, The Stillwater City Council discussed potential actions to combat the spread of COVID-19 following videos of large crowds gathering in local bars over the weekend.
Although some have called for bars to be closed down, or for a return to shelter-in-place regulations, the councilors preferred an approach that would be less restrictive of local businesses.
Mayor William Joyce was among the supporters of this less restrictive approach, while also acknowledging his disappointment in those who decided to attend a crowded party.
“I think we all would prefer that businesses and individuals are able to make decisions without having to be told what to do,” Joyce said.
City Manager Norman McNickle took time to give his reasoning for opposing bar closures. McNickle argued that shutting down the bars could be one of the worst things that the city could do. He said it would drive those parties to private property, where the city has less authority.
Joyce said there is nothing more important to Stillwater’s economic health than for students to be on campus.
Weighing both health and economic concerns, the councilors considered additional limited occupancy regulations at bars in town, and requiring table service to keep customers socially distanced.
Joyce said both would be passed through emergency orders and are likely to go into place before this weekend.
Also discussed was the possibility of allowing bars and restaurants to expand outdoors. This would likely be done through emergency order on a temporary basis to gauge its effectiveness before deciding if a long term ordinance is necessary. The specifications and timeline of this action will be discussed further in the next council meeting.
Joyce vowed to take more stringent action if people do not follow city guidelines.
“At the end of the day, people have to make good decisions,” Joyce said.