LAWTON – When it comes to complying with the city’s mask mandate in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, Lawton City Mayor Stan Booker is pleased with how the community has responded.
This, in light of a new statewide health report detailing COVID-19 cases in the state of Oklahoma through September 28.
While Tulsa (113 deaths), Oklahoma City (132 deaths) and Comanche County (13 total deaths) had spikes over the summer, Lawton had a few spikes in July and a few in September but it has 11 deaths total and only two deaths since the mask ordinance was instituted in the summer.
Smaller cities like Claremore, Bartlesville, and Ada had somewhat higher COVID death rates for their populations which are under 50,000, while Lawton is nearly 100,000.
“The citizens have responded appropriately,” said Booker in a recent interview with Southwest Ledger.
He was clearly pleased with how his city had fared, as he noted the COVID-19 numbers over the summer.
“There’s a lot of different ways to look at this. If you take out institutional things, like the (Comanche County Detention Center), Lawton’s numbers have been pretty low all along,” Booker said. “If you look at deaths, with mask mandate – three weeks to see the impact in the numbers – we have had only two deaths. The average was 10 deaths per 100,000 in masked cities, and 18 in the unmasked municipalities of Oklahoma with populations over 100,000.
“I think the thing is that when you look at those charts, the active cases per 100,000, Lawton is having very good results, whether you like masks or not,” he said. “And when you look at the death comparisons, masks are having a positive impact on the way COVID affects the city.”
When asked about neighboring Army installation of Fort Sill, Booker said the city has been in continued communication with the base and while they have had some different challenges, with soldiers continually being trained, they have a similar mask mandate in place.
And while other cities and towns in southwest Oklahoma are not doing as well as Lawton, Booker realizes every city has its challenges and key decisions to make going forward.
“Every mayor and decisionmaker is struggling with what is really manageable for their municipality,” he said “Questions are asked like ‘why should I put a mask mandate in place if I am a city council member? Why put one in place and at what point do I put one in place?’
“If you are a small city and have 50 (COVID cases), that is a lot more than a big city having 50 cases,” explained Booker. “You are typically not as dense in your population. There are a lot of variables at play and there is not much guidance in formulating something.”
Continuing, Booker said, “Nobody likes masks or having a mask mandate. And now that we have had them for a while, it sends a message for people to consider.”
When asked about the recent attempt to recall him for the mask mandate, Booker said he had been too busy to give it much thought.
After all, he said, some very positive things have been happening in the city of later, with a recently passed capital improvement plan.
“It is a transformative CIP,” Booker said. “It will transform the way we operate. We got $20 million that we are investing in parks and recreation. Never before in the history of the city have we had this level of investment in parks and recreation.”
Booker said he is excited that the city is working to become a city of choice for young families.
Noting young people, Booker said a $6 million Blue Ribbon Commission on Youth and Family has been organized to look into way to keep young people busy and out of criminal activity, which has been a problem for many years in Lawton.
The idea, he said is to keep people “busy and excelling.”
With $29 million for industrial needs and a total of $38 million for job creation in Lawton, this investment, he emphasized, will be “transformative for our growth and our future.”
“There’s just so much activity happening in our city,” the excited mayor said. “The citizens have taken the step to get where we need to be.”