Gov. Kevin Stitt has issued a “Safer at Home” executive order, which requires “vulnerable” individuals to remain at home statewide through April 30. It also directs “nonessential” businesses to close until April 16 in counties with any confirmed cases of coronavirus. This includes all of Oklahoma’s largest counties.
For now, residents can still go to the pharmacy or the grocery store, take a stroll around their neighborhood, or pick up food from a restaurant. Many other governments have issued more draconian orders and are using them to track and arrest citizens.
In Britain, for example, people out walking by themselves are being tracked and harassed by police using drones. In Los Angeles, the mayor has threatened to shut off utilities to businesses. Business inspectors in Nevada are searching for violators. Portland, Maine, says people will be prosecuted and fined $500 if they leave home for anything other than an “essential” reason.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says Oklahomans can be prosecuted and jailed for a misdemeanor if they violate the Governor’s order (but also suggested that police should favor an “inform and persuade” approach).
One challenge for businesses is that these orders are not really clear. Does closed mean that offices should close, but staff can work from home? Or must all operations be shut down? Can you still deliver a product to a customer, if you can do that remotely?
And what if you can operate safely? The point, after all, is not the shutdown. Throwing people out of work, taking away people’s livelihoods, and making people poorer are not the purposes of these orders. And so if an innovative business is able to come up with ways that fully incorporate social distancing into their workplace and customer interactions—why would we shut those businesses down?