Tulsa city councilors voted 7-2 on Wednesday to approve a face covering ordinance.
Councilors Cass Fahler and Connie Dodson voted against the measure.
During Wednesday night’s meeting, councilors essentially scrapped Mayor G.T. Bynum’s proposed ordinance, which was created by the city Legal Department and the Tulsa Health Department, and replaced it with one that draws heavily from the Stillwater mask ordinance. The change was made in part because the Stillwater ordinance provided clearer definitions, councilors said.
Update: Bynum signed the ordinance shortly after 9 a.m. Thursday.
The ordinance applies to people 18 years of age and older and says those “located within Public Service Areas of Places of Public Accommodation or an Educational Building are required to wear face coverings at all times when present therein. Except as otherwise provided herein, persons in any Public Setting wherein social or physical distancing cannot be maintained are required to wear face coverings.”
The ordinance includes an exception for people eating and drinking in restaurants. People visiting a place defined as a “Public Setting,” such as workplaces, houses of worship, gyms and child care facilities, will be required to wear a mask when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
There is no specific fine or penalty for violators of the ordinance. Those who refuse to wear a face covering, though, can be subject to prosecution under criminal trespassing, disturbing the peace or a similar offense.
The ordinance will expire when the mayor’s civil emergency order expires Nov. 30 or when the ordinance is repealed, modified or extended by the City Council, whichever comes first.
The ordinance includes the following exceptions:
• People who fall into the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for those who should not wear Face Coverings due to a medical or mental health condition or developmental disability;
• Children younger than 18
• Restaurant patrons while they are eating or drinking
• People exercising in communal outdoor spaces or walking or exercising with others from the same household in communal outdoor spaces, as long as physical distancing is maintained. People congregating in communal outdoor spaces with other people not from their same household are required to wear face coverings when physical distancing is not maintained
• Settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering, such as while obtaining dental services or medical treatments or while swimming
• Occupants in a personal vehicle, personal office or similarly private space while people not from the person’s household are not present
• Private homes
• Offices and workplaces that are not public service areas where physical distancing between employees and other occupants can be consistently maintained during hours of operation.
The council’s decision comes on the same day Gov. Kevin Stitt and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith announced that they have tested positive for the virus.
Prior to Wednesday’s meetings, councilors received letters supporting a mask ordinance from the superintendents of Tulsa, Jenks and Union public schools.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist said Wednesday morning that there is no question that if more people would wear masks the virus could be better contained.
“We need to get this trajectory turned around,” she said. “We want to be back in school; we need to be back in school. Our children need to be back in school. Their families need them to be back in school, and our teachers want to see them back in school.”
City councilors spent 2½ hours in a committee meeting Wednesday afternoon discussing the proposed face covering ordinance with public health officials and Bynum.
All three health officials who attended Wednesday’s video conference urged councilors to approve the ordinance.
Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said an important responsibility of elected officials is to keep the public safe.
“Wearing a face mask may not be as dramatic and immediate as saving a toddler’s life because they walked out into the street where there is oncoming traffic, (but) you have the potential of saving lives when you wear a face mask,” Monk said. “It’s that important.”
Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer at the University of Oklahoma, stressed that wearing a simple cloth mask can help prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
Given that there is no vaccine to prevent the virus, Bratzler said, “the best intervention that we have to reduce the spread of this disease is to wear a mask.”
“It’s a respiratory virus, which means the most common mode of transmission is that the droplets coming out of my mouth when I speak are in the air and somebody else can potentially inhale them, particularly if you are not physically distancing from those people,” Bratzler said.
Bynum told councilors that although his proposal would be unprecedented in Tulsa, it was in line with what other municipalities across the country have implemented or are considering.
“This is not unprecedented in cities across America,” he said. “Out of the 50 largest cities by population, 46 of them already have orders like this in place, either put in place by their local governments or by their state government.”
Bynum said the No. 1 misconception that he’s heard about the ordinance is that it is about protecting the wearer.
“If that were the case, then I could totally understand the whole, ‘It’s my choice to take a risk with my health’ argument,” Bynum said. “I would support that. This is about protecting other people from the person wearing the mask. And the only way it works effectively is if you have the community engaging in that.”
Face covering: A covering that fully covers a person's nose and mouth. The term includes but is not limited to cloth face masks, towels, scarves and bandanas as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Oklahoma State Department of Health, an N95, KN95, or other mask that would be appropriate for a health care setting, or a surgical mask.
Public service area: Areas of a place of public accommodation or an educational institution where employees interact with the public in the normal course of business.
Public setting: Any public place where people congregate that is not a place of public accommodation, including offices, workplaces, houses of worship and ancillary facilities, child care facilities, hospitals and health facilities, gymnasiums and physical fitness facilities, adult and youth sports facilities, communal outdoor spaces such as sidewalks, trails and parks, and food trucks and other outdoor retail entities.
Place of public accommodation: All places offering items, goods or services for purchase or rent, including retail businesses, personal services and spas, entertainment venues, food service facilities, restaurants and bars, hotels, motels and travel related services, professional offices and services, banks and financial services, repair facilities, motor vehicle dealerships.
Public service area: Areas in a place of public accommodation or an educational institution where employees interact with the public in the normal course of business.