Oklahoma Mall Reopens, Immediately Draws Crowds

The Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma reopened on Friday and immediately drew a bigger crowd than officials were hoping for. The shopping center has been closed since early March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and on Friday it was allowed to open as the state relaxes some of its restrictions on businesses. Even with mandatory sanitation and other precautions in place, the mall could present a danger to shoppers and employees.

On it's first day open in over a month, the Penn Square Mall was hardly recognizable to shoppers who flooded through its doors. According to a report by local news outlet KFOR, only about 45 out of the 150 stores in the mall were open. There were other striking changes as well, such as every other sink in the bathrooms being taped off to prevent crowding. Customers and employees were required to where masks inside, and many wore gloves as well. Still, all this may not be enough to completely stop the spread of COVID-19.

Photos from the scene show the mall food court taped off in many places, with only about a third of its seating available. The children's play area remains closed, and shoppers did not seem to linger long in any one place. Mall Manager Jeff Runnels told reporters that it is up to the stores themselves to decide if they want to reopen.

"It's just increasing each day and sometimes by the hour. We're not requiring the stores to open. I think it's just going to continue to grow," he said. Runnels also felt confident that the sanitation practices being put into place would keep everyone inside safe, saying: "As long as they just follow the social distancing and hygiene recommendations, I think we'll be fine. For us, this is going to go on, what we're doing, for the foreseeable future."

This is just one of the businesses in Oklahoma reopening this month as the state looks for ways to relax its restrictions and allow the economy to stabilize as the coronavirus pandemic continues. So far, the state has seen 3,748 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 230 deaths. Public health experts remain critical of any attempt to get people back out into public spaces, saying that social distancing is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

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The U.S. has now had well over 1.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 65,708 deaths in total. As the crisis stretches into yet another month, more and more people are criticizing the Trump administration for its early response to the virus. Next week, when the U.S. Congress returns to Washington, it will begin investigations into that response under the CARES Act's Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.