OKLAHOMA CITY- From the moment Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in Oklahoma City, the city and state were thrust into the center of the health crisis.
In times of emergency and uncertainty, people look to their local government for leadership and guidance.
No stranger to this role, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt has been at the forefront of the efforts to “flatten the curve” and prevent the city from becoming the nation’s next “COVID-19 hot zone.”
Almost a month later, people everywhere are settling in and adjusting to our new normal. But the hours and days immediately following the postponement of the Utah Jazz-Oklahoma City Thunder game and Gobert’s positive test were uncharted territory for Holt and the city.
“If you had wanted to have COVID-19 affect the psyche of the United States and especially Oklahoma City, you would not have picked a more dramatic scenario,” Holt said to Brady Trantham and Madysson Morris on the OKC-82 podcast.
Holt had originally planned to watch Thunder-Jazz from his house with his family. What started as a night in with the family soon turned to a long night attacking a plethora of problems all around the city.
“By 8 or 8:30 p.m. my phone was blowing up with so many different issues.” Holt said.
Fielding both local and national calls, Holt had to put out local fires while gathering information and sharing it with all who were involved.
One of the first problems the Mayor had to tackle locally came from the 21c Museum Hotel, the location where the Jazz were staying. Gobert was contained to his room, but the staff at the hotel were understandably concerned with how to proceed for the safety of both their workers and their guests.
“From a public health perspective, he was in his room and that was a stable situation but it didn’t feel very stable to 21c [Museum Hotel] so they and their guests were flipping out,” Holt said.
While also fielding calls from both the Oklahoma and Utah Govenors’ offices, as well as the offices of Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe and Utah Senator Mitt Romney, Holt made the determination to head into work.
“All these Utah entities were trying to help and trying to parachute in so I finally left my house,” Holt said. “I went to the county health department and settled in there with a bunch of their leadership.”
“All of our city management leadership was over at City Hall and we were linked on a phone call.”
Holt and the city leadership worked into the night troubleshooting problems, not wrapping up until about 1 a.m.
In the following days, further positive tests caused Holt to implement the shelter in place policies we are now familiar with.
Though Gobert will be remembered as Oklahoma’s “patient zero”, history will tell a different tale.
“It was an interesting disconnect because Rudy Gobert wasn’t really our first case,” Holt said. “Health history will record that as a Utah case.”
It wasn’t until two days later, Holt said, that Oklahoma would get their first positive test. In the following days, further evidence of community spread ultimately led Holt to trigger the safety guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control.
In the days since, Holt has been sure to attempt to convey the correct tone to the citizens of Oklahoma City to ensure they abide by the directives in place.
“Reality is we don’t have armies to enforce these orders. We have to find some level of self motivation,” Holt said.
The onus is on each individual person to abide by the shelter in place directives.
“I do want people to have a healthy dose of fear, you know?,” Holt said. “[Brady] mentioned panic, I don’t want to use the word panic but [citizens] can’t be complacent either, this is a very serious issue.”
“I have to share the data and I’m not going to gloss over it. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, but a lot of it is pretty gloomy. It is what it is, and people have to take it seriously.”
Despite everything required of him during this health emergency, Holt has had some time to be able to reflect on the night of Gobert’s positive test.
“I often think if Rudy Gobert’s test results had come back at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. it would have been a totally different story,” he said.
The decision to postpone or play the game being made in real time in a full arena and before a television audience of millions changed how we looked at COVID-19 in our country, Holt said.
“It did force the whole country and certainly Oklahoma City to focus on the issue,” he said.
“It definitely all started in many ways on the night of the Thunder game. That was certainly an historic and dramatic moment in the COVID-19 story and our city’s history.”