By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — There has been a happy sight at the Senior Citizens Center recently, as cars once again fill the parking lot, and inside, regular patrons are enjoying a meal together. Breakfast was served to senior residents Monday, June 1, and that Friday was another fried chicken Friday. Although participation is lower than usual, hearts were still filled to simply get out of the house and fellowship together again.
“We didn’t have as many as usual at first, then they started trickling in,” said Senior Center volunteer Ashley Longcrier, describing the response Monday morning. “Everyone was very happy we’re open. It was really nice to see everybody.”
Across town at the Newkirk Public Library, the facility also is welcoming avid readers, who were ready to browse the aisles looking for that one special book to read.
“We’re here from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. We can deliver books to the back door if you don’t want to come in, but we’d love you to come in,” said Librarian Marcina Overman. “We’re enjoying being back to work, and love seeing people.”
The excitement at the NPL and Senior Center is part of the official re-opening of the Newkirk city government facilities, which took place June 1.
The city of Newkirk was placed on lockdown in mid-March, when the first case of CVOVID-19 was diagnosed in Kay County, and forced the closure of the Kay County Courthouse, as well. Governor Kevin Stitt also ordered the state on lockdown, although services deemed “essential” were allowed to stay open.
City operations continued, however, with changes to those activities. All city properties were closed to the public, including City Hall, NPL, the Senior Center, the police and fire stations and the parks and country club. Only on-duty firefighters and police officers were allowed in the stations, and responses were limited to emergencies. City Hall was locked, but all city employees still performed their roles.
Those measures were only temporary until the lift date.
“These actions were taken not as a cure for COVID-19; it was only to slow the amount of patients to the hospitals, and we did that,” said Mayor Brian Hobbs. “This was never meant to be an indefinite lockdown.”
Indeed, it was not indefinite, as city facilities slowly re-opened, starting with the NPL and parks and county club, and finally with the full opening June 1.
During the lockdown, the community had no access to the police and fire departments, and only on-duty officials were allowed inside, but they too can welcome the public once again.
“All the city buildings are opened back up. You can come in and out, we just ask that you ring the door bell, and wait for a fireman, but you can definitely come back in the station,“ said Fire Chief Adam Longcrier.
It hasn’t been without changes, however, as facilities must follow social distancing guidelines.
One big change is how the NPL’s Summer Reading program will be handled. The program is designed for children, and each week, they meet at the library to learn creative educational concepts. That will be from home for now.
“We’re going to be doing Summer Reading packets,” Overman said. “We’re doing genres, and the first one is mystery. We’ll do a different genre each week.”
There also is a planned Insect Adventure program from Oklahoma State University, but that is now going to be a quick walk-through.
Even the operations have changed.
“We can’t have more than 10 people in here,” Overman said.
The Senior Center has also accommodated social distancing guidelines, especially as most of the patrons are considered in the vulnerable population. Those measures include spreading the tables out, and limiting the number at each table to four.
“They do not have to bring a mask. If they are not feeling well, stay at home,” Ashely Longcrier said. “We’re taking extra steps now, so it’s clean the next time they come in.”
Longcrier added that the Wednesday drive-through will still be held each week.
Those working in city positions are happy to be open again and to welcome the public back out to the park and other city locations.
“We’re looking forward to having people come in and use the library, and have new faces, as well as the regulars,” Overman said. “We just want you to come in and use the library again.”
It is also a testament to the spirit of Newkirk that life is returning to some form of normalcy.
“I am glad to see the community getting back to normal,” Hobbs said. “I’d like to thank everyone for their cooperation in these difficult times. We have a wonderful community.”