City councilors in Sand Springs and Muskogee voted Monday to enact mask mandates as cases of COVID-19, along with related hospitalizations, remain high. But Broken Arrow Mayor Craig Thurmond and several city councilors at a meeting Monday reminded their audience at least half a dozen times that city leaders there would not support a legally enforceable mask ordinance, and they voted 4-1 against a nonbinding resolution that would have “strongly recommended” masks in public.
“At this point — we, all of us — we know what we believe,” Broken Arrow City Councilor Christi Gillespie said. “There is nothing anybody’s going to say to any of us that’s going to change our minds. We have studied this to death.”
Gillespie claimed that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sent the nation mixed messages over the past few months regarding when it would be appropriate to wear masks. She said she believes a mask “almost makes people like they’re safer than they are.”
After putting the words “facts” and “science” in air quotes, she said, “I can Google something to justify anything I want to believe. That’s just the way it is today, unfortunately.”
The Broken Arrow council held a special meeting Monday for the second time in two weeks to discuss a resolution that would have recommended mask wearing and social distancing while in public. It also would have “strongly recommended” that private businesses and places of worship require their use while on premises.
Additionally, it said the city and police would pledge “to provide assistance in instances where individuals refuse to comply” with the standards of a business.
The city of Owasso approved a similar resolution last week. In opting to deny one for Broken Arrow, Mayor Craig Thurmond said “I do not support the business part.”
Nearly all of the citizens who spoke out about the resolution strongly opposed it, with the consensus appearing to be that the measure was “rules for the sake of rules” and unnecessarily divisive.
Two speakers in support of the move said its passage would be a sign that Broken Arrow residents care about each other and public health.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force has said the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma is “unyielding” and has recommended a statewide mask mandate for weeks. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and the Tulsa City Council established a mask ordinance that remains in effect in Tulsa through at least Jan. 31.
Councilors in Tulsa will meet Tuesday to discuss an ordinance that will, if approved, reduce the threshold for Tulsa Health Department oversight of gatherings to events with 150 people or more. It also would introduce penalties for businesses that violate rules related to curbing the spread of COVID-19.
“I know you’re not mandating, but the very fact that we’re even talking about having to encourage people to do it, in my opinion, means that you don’t really need to have that happen,” said Broken Arrow resident Mark Ostrom, who operates Mark Ostrom Ministries.
“Like if people were dead on the road and it was like bubonic plague, everyone would be on board (with masks.) But like, they’re not. And I’m not,” Ostrom said.
More than 250,000 people in the United States, including more than 1,500 people in Oklahoma, had been reported dead of complications related to COVID-19 as of Monday.
Councilor Johnnie Parks, who cast the lone vote against a motion to deny approval of the resolution, said he believes that a mandate could come from the state level if COVID-19 case numbers continue to increase in the state.
Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart spoke to the Jenks City Council earlier this month in support of a mask mandate and touted it as a way to keep freedom to visit local businesses while protecting them from the novel coronavirus.
Broken Arrow’s ZIP code 74012 is among the top in the county in total positive COVID-19 cases, and Vice Mayor Scott Eudey noted in the meeting that 55 Broken Arrow residents have died from the virus. However, Eudey voted to deny the resolution and said he thinks the city lacks the legal authority either to mandate masks or criminalize the refusal to wear one.
He also said he had received “numerous emails” against the resolution because of the view that it did not go far enough.
“I’m disappointed because I felt this was a good meeting of the minds and an opportunity to meet both sides halfway, but I’ve come to realize being a mediator is not always functional,” he said of his decision. “I hoped we could come reason together.”
Parks acknowledged doubts that the city of Broken Arrow would “ever” approve a mask mandate but said he would vote for one, noting that most states in the U.S. have a statewide mandate.
“What I see in the resolution — and we can call it whatever, but it is a resolution; there are no laws in there — I think there’s good recommendations,” he said. “I think it’s good for citizens to know the City Council is recommending some things.”
Thurmond and Gillespie said the city has been following Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic and said the council has promoted behaviors such as hand washing and social distancing.
“I think you have to be responsible for your own immunity. We take vitamins. We eat healthy. We try to exercise. But as a city we’re not going to mandate that,” Thurmond said.
Muskogee, Sand Springs back ordinances
In Muskogee, the City Council had rejected five previous attempts at passing a mask mandate but voted 5-3 in favor of one on Monday. It requires the use of masks in public by anyone age 10 or older for at least the next 60 days.
There is no criminal penalty for noncompliance, but refusal could lead to a trespassing complaint upon refusal of orders to leave a business.
Muskogee County Commissioners declared a state of emergency before the council meeting on Monday citing “significant and consistent” increases in cases of COVID-19, as well as staffing problems at a local hospital.
The ordinance will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and extend through Jan. 25.
In Sand Springs, councilors unanimously passed an ordinance requiring face coverings in public that will take effect Friday.
The ordinance is similar to Tulsa’s and includes an exemption for children younger than 10, as well as an allowance for religious facilities to set their own policies.
Enforcement can be made upon a complaint from a property owner or law enforcement.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a Facebook post Monday night that he was “inspired to see the way leaders in this region are responding to the medical professionals who need our help.”
“Mayors and City Councils in Jenks, Sapulpa, Glenpool, Claremore, Sand Springs, and Muskogee are all working with Tulsa to protect our regional health care system. Thank you!”
Video: Broken Arrow citizens voice opinion on resolution
Gallery: In lieu of statewide mask mandate, what are area cities doing for COVID-19 safety?