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Mask mandate starts Monday

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar

On Thursday, Mayor Ed Bolt signed an ordinance requiring face coverings to be worn in particular situations, as well as detailing guidelines, exceptions, violations and penalties — enforceable until Sept. 30.

Shawnee City Commissioners met in a special session to determine whether stricter COVID-19 precautions should be enacted; the vote was unanimous.

The new mandate begins after midnight Sunday, so as of Monday residents 11 years old and older must cover their noses and mouths when entering — and while inside — places open to the public.

Of course, there are exceptions.

Who and where

Children 10 years old and younger are not required to wear a face covering unless it is required by a school or daycare.

People who work in a professional office, who do not have any face-to-face interactions with the public will not be required to wear a mask while in that space, the ordinance reads.

Restaurant patrons can remove their masks while eating or drinking. Shawnee City Attorney Joe Vorndran confirmed after the meeting that any establishment where food and drink are being consumed, such as bars, fall under that category, as well.

In certain instances it is not practical or feasible to wear a mask, such as, “when receiving dental services or medical treatments or while swimming or at a splash park;” in those situations residents are exempt from the rule.

The same is true for those engaged in sporting activities, whether it be competitive, recreational or exercise, though social distancing should be practiced.

“Persons attending any indoor religious service or ceremony as long as all persons who do not live in the same household are social distancing from one another — meaning not less than six feet apart,” the ordinance reads.

Anyone inside any public or private school building or other facility, unless required by the school to wear a face covering is exempt.

The document also states residents with developmental, mental and/or medical disability, including persons who are deaf and hard of hearing are exempt.

Guidelines for face coverings

According to amended Shawnee City Code, the term face covering means a uniform piece of material that securely covers a person's nose and mouth and remains affixed in place without the use of one's hands and/or a face shield.

• Face coverings must be worn when entering — and while inside — any indoor place open to the public;

• The public is encouraged to wear face coverings that fit snugly, but comfortably against the side of the face;

• Face coverings must be secured;

• Face coverings must allow for breathing without restrictions; and

• Face coverings may be made of disposable or non-disposable materials

Enforcement

The rule can be enforced by any legally authorized code-enforcement inspectors or police officers, which includes authorized PCHD inspectors, authorized Development Services Department Inspectors and sworn peace officers of the Shawnee Police Department, the amended code reads.

Violation and Penalties

Upon initial contact, officers will offer a face covering or the option to leave the indoor public place to anyone who is not exempt from the requirement.

“No citation shall be issued to a person who complies with one of the options,” the code reads. “Failure to wear the face covering or failure to leave the indoor public place shall constitute a violation.”

Such violations are a Class A offense and each violation is counted separately.

“Upon conviction, the penalty shall not exceed, for the first and second offenses, a $9 fine only,” the document states.

A third violation will require a mandatory appearance in court and, upon conviction, will be punishable with a penalty not exceeding $100, inclusive of costs and state-mandated fees.

Defense

Anyone found in violation of any of these offenses can produce in their defense a document demonstrating that his/her/their physician has verified that wearing a face covering could cause impairment or would constitute a hazard to the individual.

Commissioner comments

“I think what we need to do is support our children when they go back to school,” Ward 6 Shawnee City Commissioner Ben Salter said. “And if they're going to be required to have face coverings, then with the adults along, and trying to explain, I think it will help.”

He said he believes business owners would really appreciate face coverings.

“I do not want to see businesses close down again,” he said. “I had one tell me if he has to close down again, he probably won't open back up.”

Salter went on to say that he doesn't think it's a constitutional idea or situation.

Vorndran, in response, agreed.

“I don't believe that the ordinance how it's drafted or any of the intentional amendments that have been discussed create a violation of any constitutional rights,” he said. “It's always a constitutional issue that requires us to look at this balance.”

But as drafted, Vorndran said, “given the empirical evidence, and this body's duty to protect the public's health and safety, I do not believe that it is a constitutional violation as authored or with any of the considered amendments.”

Ward 3 Shawnee City Commissioner Travis Flood shared his struggle in making the decision.

“I, myself, have agonized over this as much as anybody,” he said, “working with the schools and working with a lot of young adults and having relationships in both areas where teachers are absolutely terrified about what their classrooms are going to look like and parents on a daily basis struggling on whether or not to send their children back to school because they don't know if the school is going to be a safe place for their children to be.”

He said he's thinking of the future and if the community can be intentional for this two-month period, what differences could be made.

“I don't like these silly things (referring to his face mask), I wish we could throw them down and go on,” he said, “but I know that sometimes I have to do what's best for me and my family and people I love, whether I like it or not.”

Bolt said it's a horrible situation and nobody's happy about it.

“I know, regardless of how we vote, we're going to have a lot of people upset with us,” he said. “that's our job and we all knew that when we signed up.”

He said the commission had gotten a lot of input from all sides — something he appreciates.

“It's not like I'm on one side or the other,” he said. “I appreciate everybody's input and everything they've had to say.”

He said he has heard a lot of the same things Salter commented on, that some business owners have said if they have to close down again, they will probably not be coming back.

“That is a scary thing for our community,” he said. “We've had a lot of people asking for our support.”

It's a tough thing, he said.

“None of us want to be told what to do,” he said.

He said he thinks the city has done a good job trying to make it a very common-sense approach, and looking out for folks.

“The numbers that we're seeing in the last week, I see like a 33-percent increase in cases in Pottawatomie County in the last week,” he said. “That's a scary number. ”

Bolt said he knows all the thought and consideration his colleagues have put into the decision.

“It's a tough situation to be sitting up here right now,” he said. “We are taking it seriously.”

Ward 4 Shawnee City Commissioner Darren Rutherford reiterated that places/businesses, etc., that are not open to the public, like manufacturing companies, are left to the discretion of those in charge.

Watch for updates.