Until Coronavirus Surfaces, Mandates Are Scarce in Rural Communities

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Traffic was steady on Main Street in Watonga on March 23.

Traffic was steady on Main Street in Watonga on March 23. (Courtesy Watonga Republican)

March 21, 2020

It was business as usual this week in Watonga, Oklahoma, a city of fewer than 3,000 residents known for its fall cheese festival.

If someone tests positive, “then we’ll decide if we’ll do anything,” Watonga Mayor Gary Olsen said. “We’ll probably follow the federal and state guidelines for closing restaurants and the one bar in town.”

In stark contrast to Oklahoma City – which restricted restaurants and closed bars, gyms and other businesses this week amid increasing concerns about the coronavirus – Olsen is waiting until the virus reaches Blaine County to take action. Watonga is the county seat.

Many rural communities across the state have been hesitant to implement restrictions or closures, especially on businesses, partly because the fast-spreading coronavirus has not yet reached their edges.

As of Monday morning, the State Department of Health had reported 67 confirmed novel coronavirus cases in 16 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Most are in Oklahoma and Cleveland counties. The state has two confirmed deaths.

Continue reading on Oklahoma Watch.


Whitney Bryen, Oklahoma Watch

Kathryn McNutt, Oklahoma Watch

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