How a town’s leader responds in a time of crisis is crucial to the well-being of its citizens.
With zero active COVID-19 cases and only 22 total, Stillwater’s leadership under mayor Will Joyce has been efficient from the start.
“What we’ve tried to do, and I think part of the reason we acted quickly is that we were looking two or three weeks ahead and saying ‘if there’s a spread, this is highly contagious and it will grow exponentially and we need to act really quickly and soon because it will get out of control very quickly,’” Joyce said.
Instead of looking at the current statistics, Joyce looks at the potential of the virus and how bad it could impact the community. This mentality stems from the infectious nature of the novel coronavirus.
"There are very few viruses that are more contagious than this one," Mark Schleiss, an investigator for the Institute of Molecular Virology at the University of Minnesota, told USA Today.
Joyce has observed how other communities in Oklahoma-- namely Guymon, which has 619 total cases and a population of just about 11,300-- have been impacted by this rapid spread rate and has taken action.
“All of us should be taking whatever precautions we can to try to protect the health of our community,” Joyce said. “It’s harder to recognize when we put shelter-in-place in when there was still just a few cases is recognizing the speed at which this can grow and we're seeing that right now in Guymon and the panhandle and the speed in which their outbreak has grown in the last just a couple of weeks.
“If we're thinking about how it can go from one or two cases to 200 or 300 cases very quickly, then we really do need to be looking at that possible future and planning for that rather than just looking at what the immediate circumstances are.”
For Joyce, this journey has been all about planning and perseverance. He extended Stillwater’s shelter-in-place order despite the state’s quick reopening plan, he made national news for some citizen’s reactions to his mask policy and his emergency proclamation is still in place until May 31.
Overall, however, Joyce just wants other leaders to look ahead when dealing with COVID-19.
“I think the advice (for other cities’ leaders during the pandemic) would just be look at where you could be in two or three weeks and plan for that rather than just looking at what the immediate circumstances are,” Joyce said.