Newkirk community moving forward during pandemic

By Everett Brazil, III

The Newkirk Herald Journal

NEWKIRK — A novel new virus, termed COVID-19, has recently rocked many countries around the world, including the United States, in what the Centers for Disease Control has referenced as a pandemic. Many people are quarantined in their homes, working through the phone to keep distance from others in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. Other people are still working from the office, however, as business leaders strive to move forward in the face of the pandemic.

As of Tuesday afternoon, March 24, there were 106 COVID-19 infections across the state, and three deaths. Five of those cases are in Kay County, and the Kay County Health Department (KCHD) and Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) are working closely to address to problem locally.

The city of Newkirk issued an emergency disaster declaration Monday, March 16, which closed all city facilities to the public, including City Hall, the Senior Citizens Center, Newkirk Public Library and the  fire and police stations. All city employees are still working, however.
The lockdown was still in place Tuesday.
“Our basic city functions are being performed, but there is no public action,” said Mayor Brian Hobbs. “I’m hoping in a week or two, things will get back to normal. I believe that as a city, as a state, as a country, we are doing good to make it. I feel like we’re doing a good job.”

There is no public access to the fire or police station, and only on-duty personnel may be in the facilities. Residents calling the dispatcher are asked to call only in emergencies.
The Kay County Commissioners met March 16 and also issued a county-wide declaration, placing the Courthouse on lockdown. All county employees are working, but the public has no access to the facility. The Kay County Detention Center is also on lockdown, and the public may not access the front lobby.

The Commissioners have also turned to livestreaming all county meetings temporarily.

While government entities remain on lockdown, there are many other groups that remain open for business, as citizens come together and continue helping society.

All public schools in the state are closed at least until April 6, including Newkirk, Kildare, Peckham, Blackwell, Tonkawa, Ponca City and McCord. However, NPS will still provide breakfast and lunch to the student, according to Superintendent Brady Barnes.

Some businesses have seen the need to alter operations for the health and safety of their employees and customers. Newkirk Dental Center has moved all operations to their Blackwell facility, and patients may make the trip there, or re-schedule at a later date when the facility reopens.

“We closed the building, but we’re still operating, and we’ve moved all of the customers to our Blackwell office, because it’s bigger, and better to use for social distancing, and to follow all coronavirus guidelines,” said Director Misrty Jordan. “We’re giving all our Newkirk patients the option to wait until we start  back at the Newkirk office, or come to Blackwell.”

Equity Bank likewise is still operating, but most activity must be conducted through the drive-through, as the lobby is closed to the public.

“We are happy to keep waiting on people. With the drive-through being open, we can handle a lot of things,” said Newkirk branch President Mary Austin. “It saves them from being exposed to anything.”
Austin added that some customers may be admitted to the bank, depending on the service they need.

“We’ll still let them in the lobby, if they need to get to their safety deposit box, if they have a document they need to sign,” Austin said.

For some businesses, however, they are entering new territory, such as funeral homes, which typically perform funeral services  in front of what may be large crowds. Miller-Stahl Funeral Home has not had a funeral in the past couple of weeks, but anticipates that such a scenario would be a small service with family members, followed by a larger service at a later date.

“I’m assuming that we would not be having a large gathering. They’re down to 10 people (meeting) at a time, so as far as a full-body burial, we’d probably be limited to family at the grave site,” Miller-Stahl Funeral Home Director John Miller said. “Some of the churches, and the pubic, probably would not want to be involved in a larger service at that time, and maybe down the road, they might want a service.”

Miller added that cremation services would work the same way.

“It would be very limited on what you’re trying to do. If you can’t have a gathering over 10, that limits it,” he said.
The Kay County Extension Service, located in basement of the Courthouse, is on lockdown, along with all other departments in the facility. All activities are on hold, including all meetings and workshops, as well as 4-H clubs and Oklahoma Home and Community Education groups until the end of April.

“We cannot do any programs face-to-face until April 30. Since we’re in the Courthouse, we’re still working, but people cannot come in,” said office director and FCS Educator Brenda Medlock.

Medlock added that Extension representatives may meet constituents outside the Courthouse, but only in small gatherings.

“We’re trying to figure out new ways to reach people, such as through Internet,” Medlock said. “People can still call, if they need to.”

The city of Newkirk is making plans to help continue meeting the nutrition needs of the community, especially the elderly and those who may not be able to get out of their homes. That may involve working with area food banks to deliver food directly to their houses, a step the city leaders are taking to help those most in need. Plans will be unveiled soon.

“We’re going to try find a way that people are looked after,” Hobbs said.

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