Oklahoma mall opens with shoppers in face masks and social distancing

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A mall in Oklahoma has shown Americans a snapshot of the new normal they will face while the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City reopened on Friday with a number of “elevated safety standards.” Oklahoma instituted the first phase of its “Open Up & Recover Safely” (OURS) over the past eight days, with the aim to reopen businesses “based on scientific modeling from public health experts.”

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Customers wearing face masks could be seen roaming the walkways or sitting alone at tables, observing social distancing wherever possible. Even the bathrooms observed the measures, with every second sink taped off to ensure compliance.

Alternating sinks in the restroom at Penn Square mall are taped off to promote social distancing as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The mall has closed one of two restrooms and five of seven entrances. The mall has been closed since mid-March due to coronavirus concerns. 

Alternating sinks in the restroom at Penn Square mall are taped off to promote social distancing as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The mall has closed one of two restrooms and five of seven entrances. The mall has been closed since mid-March due to coronavirus concerns.  (AP)

Only around 45 of the mall’s 150 stores were open as of Friday. Food court capacity was reduced to one-third in order to ensure social distancing.

Oklahoma declared a state of emergency on March 15, but the state never instituted a mandatory lockdown, instead favoring a “safer at home” advisement. The state did close down non-essential businesses though.

People eat in the food court at Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The tables in the food court have been thinned out, reducing capacity from from 600 to 170 seats. 

People eat in the food court at Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The tables in the food court have been thinned out, reducing capacity from from 600 to 170 seats.  (AP)

As businesses reopen, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s OURS plan insists that stores must follow CDC guidance for workplaces that are trying to operate during the outbreak.

The CDC advises that stores provide tissues, soap and water, hand sanitizer and other hygiene products in convenient locations. Mall manager Jeff Runnels said that the Penn Square Mall will go even further, providing face masks on request and taking customer temperatures, according to the Oklahoman.

Signage encourages social distancing as Penn Square Mall reopens to the public Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The mall has been closed since mid-March due to coronavirus concerns. 

Signage encourages social distancing as Penn Square Mall reopens to the public Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. The mall has been closed since mid-March due to coronavirus concerns.  (AP)

Runnels claimed that a couple hundred people were waiting for the mall to open at 11 AM.

Friday saw most types of non-essential business opening, such as hair salons, gyms, movie theaters and restaurants, provided the follow CDC-recommended restrictions.

"Many of the local fitness places, like Four Star Fitness and Crossfit Gyms. We've also heard from a number of hair and nail salons that they will open," said Jim Parrack, retail property specialist and senior vice president at Price Edwards & Co. "I expect most of the locals to open before the national chains, owing partly to need and partly to them being able to react quicker to the changing local guidelines."

A security guard wearing a mask and riding a Segway patrols inside Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City. 

A security guard wearing a mask and riding a Segway patrols inside Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens Friday, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City.  (AP)

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Should the state maintain “manageable” levels for two weeks, Gov. Stitt will then roll out the next phases of his reopening plan.

Other states, including Texas, Illinois and Ohio, reopened businesses over the past week.

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Illinois took the step to reclassify certain businesses such as garden centers as essential businesses to qualify for reopening, while Texas allowed stores to reopen at limited capacity.