John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, has posted here many times about education and politics in his home state of Oklahoma.

He writes today about the politics of the pandemic:

When David Holt was elected mayor of Oklahoma City, I shared some of the concerns of fellow educators. I worried that the former Republican state senator would push for more charters, perhaps even the so-called “portfolio model.” But, what I’ve seen has been a civil rights advocate who actually listened to all sides. I repeatedly hear from friends that Holt has probably spent more time in African-American churches than all of our city’s previous mayors combined, and I suspect that is a big reason why he hasn’t bought the simplistic spin which many other Oklahoma leaders have.

I’ve attributed Mayor Holt’s open-mindedness, in large part, to the conversations that went with his celebration of the 60th anniversary of the nation’s largest Sit-In movement, which was led by Oklahoma City teachers and students. He listens. He’s not afraid to face hard facts of life.

In his 2020 State of the City address, Mayor Holt proposed a “big picture, everything-is-on-the-table, visionary conversation” about making schooling a team effort. Holt said it would “truly” be a collaboration between the OKCPS, the City of Oklahoma City, and community partners. Our schools and city need a “unified vision,” he explained. We especially need educators who “feel free to talk about the things nobody could achieve on their own.”

https://oklahoman.com/article/5656021/holt-focuses-2020-state-of-the-city-speech-on-idea-of-collaborative-conversation-to-improve-public-schools

Mayor Holt is now facing a challenge he cannot overcome on his own. And sadly, the stakes this month are life and death. I strongly believe that most people in Oklahoma City support the mayor’s leadership and his shelter-in-place policies. But we’re also the state where “one city abandoned its mask rule after store clerks were threatened,” and a McDonald’s customer shot two employees because she was “angry that the restaurant’s dining area was closed.”

So, I’m turning to a national education blog in order to tell a full story of a conflict that is growing across the nation. And since the Oklahoma governor intends to open up the state to an even more dangerous degree on May 15, our mayor, who has listened so respectfully to all sides but, above all, to the science, needs the public’s support.

For the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked like Mayor David Holt would be going down in history as Oklahoma City’s version of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Holt deserves much of the credit for helping Oklahoma City once be ranked by the New York Times as one of the nation’s top cities where “There May Be Good News Ahead.” The Times further explains that the April contagion’s decline occurred in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but that the state is facing a rebound of the virus.

After facing irresistible pressure to prematurely reopen the city’s economy, it might seem like the Holt-Fauci comparison won’t endure. I believe that the next few weeks could further illustrate Holt’s and Fauci’s similarities. In both cases, the outcomes could be tragic.

In early March, Mayor Holt made it clear, “We will listen to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), we will listen to our local public health officials and we will follow the best science that the world has to offer.” Despite pressure to reopen Oklahoma City’s economy to boost short-term economic outputs, Holt says, “We will prioritize life.”

Mayor Holt: Plan to reopen ‘will prioritize life’

Similarly, as explained by Stanford’s David Reiman, Dr. Fauci “has essentially become the embodiment of the bio-medical and public-health research” which must drive decision-making. He’s done so by becoming “completely a-political and nonideological.” Fauci learned from the AIDS crisis, where he was among the first to sound the warning. He listened to protesters and adjusted his thinking based on solid evidence. Then and now, and when dealing with epidemics in between, Fauci saved countless lives by placing science over politics.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/04/20/how-anthony-fauci-became-americas-doctor

Dr. Fauci is disparaged by rightwingers as “Dr. Doom Fauci.” Mayor Holt has faced similar pressures. He must deal with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s dangerously mixed messages. And the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), a free-market think tank, has pushed a petition, claiming it “appears to fall in line with the recent goals announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt.” The OCPA denigrated “shelter-in-place” orders as “oppressive.” In doing so, it makes the type of simplistic claim which could be doubly dangerous as we navigate the complexities of returning to a more normal economy.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5660521/tulsa-tea-party-leader-organizing-back-to-work-rallies
https://oklahoman.com/article/5659690/stitt-says-his-safer-at-home-order-is-the-same-as-a-shelter-in-place-is-it
https://www.ocpathink.org/post/citizen-petition-supports-reopening-state

OCPA President Jonathan Small argues that Oklahoma doesn’t face a shortage of hospital beds so there is no “valid reason” for not allowing people to return to work. In fact, a premature attempt to return to normal could spread the virus, undermining the economy, as well as causing avoidable deaths. This will remain especially true until widespread testing for the virus is in place.

Even worse, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Governor’s Council on Workforce Development, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, and Stitt have indicated they support policies that could require workers to choose between their health and their income. Worse still, The Frontier reports that Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Sean Kouplen is urging employers to report workers “if they refuse a job offer from their former employer as the state begins to reopen.”

As state reopens, Oklahoma workforce leaders discuss asking for end to federal unemployment payments

State encourages businesses to report workers who refuse to return to jobs

Because of Oklahomans’ pre-existing health problems, our state is especially at risk. Like Dr. Fauci, Mayor Holt’s first and probably most important contribution was the decisiveness which kept Oklahoma City from repeating the tragic quarantine delays in Italy, Spain, Detroit, and New Orleans. When the virus peaks, however, more complicated and nuanced decisions must be made. As Charles Duhigg explains in the New Yorker, “Epidemiology is a science of possibilities and persuasion, not of certainty or hard proof.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not

Even though it made no sense to open barber shops, hair and nail salons, and spas by May 1 or earlier, nobody knows what is the right timing for reopening the economy. As Holt explains, “May 1st is not a light switch, it is a dimmer.” After expressing his concerns about Stitt’s reopening order, Holt said he intends to monitor data and adjust accordingly, and “If there’s a sudden shift, if there’s a spike, then obviously this experiment has failed and we have to go back to an earlier phase.”


http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/msnbc-live/2020-04-27

Holt says he wields “a pen, not an army.” He correctly adds that people are choosing to respect public health officials’ expertise. Holt shares the credit for our social distancing successes, “People are staying home because they don’t want to die.” And yes, he was correct in asking, “who in their right mind” would want to end restrictions too early?

Oklahoma City Mayor Holt issues “shelter in place” order effective Sat night

“People are staying at home because they don’t want to die,” Oklahoma mayor stresses importance of social distancing

A Greater Oklahoma City Chamber survey backs the mayor’s appraisal. It found 67 percent of responding businesses cited “employee fear” as the biggest barrier to reopening. Moreover, 37 percent of companies plan to bring employees back in stages, as opposed to 20 percent intending to return their entire staff at once.

Some businesses reopening, others remain closed

Neither Holt nor Fauci know exactly what our next steps should be and when to take them. But, as long as we can learn from their leadership, we can all make wiser decisions.

Across the nation, some are responding to President Trump’s incitements, even bringing automatic weapons into the Michigan capitol to protest that state’s stay-at-home policies and in Stillwater, Ok, threatening violence to to stop the order to wear masks in businesses.

However, the New York Times’ David Brooks offers hope that Americans will listen to leaders like Holt and Fauci. Brooks distinguishes between “weavers and rippers.” He says, “The weavers try to spiritually hold each other so we can get through this together. The rippers, from Donald Trump on down, see everything through the prism of politics and still emphasize division.” Brooks concludes, “Fortunately, the rippers are not winning. America is pretty united right now.”

He cites polls showing that “98 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans supported social distancing rules,” and that “nearly 90 percent of Americans think a second wave of the virus would be at least somewhat likely if we ended the lockdowns today.”

As Nondoc reported, the early evidence on Oklahoma City’s reopening is mixed. Were it not for Holt’s leadership, however, I wonder how many more Oklahomans would be open to an absurd campaign to discredit “weavers” like Dr. Fauci and the Oklahoma experts who haven’t been able to persuade Stitt to slow down.

https://nondoc.com/2020/05/01/some-oklahoma-businesses-re-open/