Mask mandate extended as several voice opposition
Mayor Ed Bolt signed an ordinance in July requiring face coverings to be worn in particular situations, as well as detailing guidelines, exceptions, violations and penalties — enforceable until Sept. 30; now that mandate has unanimously been extended to Nov. 30.
When the mask mandate was first being considered in July, several residents came forward during City Commission to voice concerns or direct opposition to the measure. For nearly half an hour many participated at this week's meeting to do the same.
First up was resident Holly Gordon, who shared stories of how the COVID-19 pandemic has directly affected her family in recent weeks, including the death of a coworker's family member as well as the ongoing battle of a close family tie, who is currently in ICU.
Gordon works in the field of public health and said the pandemic is not political, it's a health crisis.
“This is not your right (not) to wear a mask, it is my right to live,” she said. “Please do not lose sight of that. These are people living across our community; these are families across our community that are suffering.”
The rest of those speaking on the COVID-19 topic were in opposition to the mandate.
Hope Burnett said masks are discrimination.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits the discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, state and local government services and telecommunication,” she said.
She shared a story of how a group of special needs children were turned away from an Oklahoma City amusement park, citing enforcement of a mask mandate. She told commissioners of friends being forced to wear masks at their jobs despite having asthma, and having to choose to comply or give up their jobs.
“Why are these the only two options our citizens have left?” she asked. “Our city officials support a mandate that allows citizens to feel as though they have the right to call other people disrespectful for not wanting to wear a mask, for being a victim of sexual assault, having asthma, being a diabetic, suffering form a developmental or physical impairment, and the point to which I will say enough is enough.”
She said it's time for city officials to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
“We all have a right to oxygen,” she said.
Teresa Burnett cited the CDC website, emphasizing focus on the wording that multi-layer cloth masks may provide reasonable protection.
“Recommendations to wear masks to protect us from droplet infections are based on the assumptions that droplets travel short distances,” she said. “The general public should be educated about mask use because cloth masks — this is the important one — may give users a false sense of security because of their limited ability to protect us against acquiring infections.”
The poor performance of cloth masks continues to persist, she said.
“I would like to point out that continuing the mask mandate, I believe, is deceptive and divisive,” she said. “You guys are part of the problem by continuing this mask mandate and not a solution; you're leading people to believe their health and life is dependent upon another person.”
She suggested focusing on getting those with the greatest risk the best masks for protection so they will not be afraid and no one else will have to be either.
She said she can't help but wonder, if masks work, why can't people visit their loved ones in nursing homes? Why are people dying alone in the hospital without their families or a visit from their pastor? Why are businesses still closed in many of our states? Why are people still sheltering in place, refusing to go back to work?
“If masks work, why do we have social distancing?” she asked. “If masks work, why does it keep you from spreading it, but not from getting it?”
Why are cases still going up, she asked.
LaDonna Bryce offered another reason behind the mandate. She said she believes masks are not about safety, but about power and control.
“They are about silencing a voice,” she said. “The powers that be, far higher than city government, have started this snowball rolling and it has increased in size by persons who doesn't want (a) solution, but want to keep fear alive.”
She said if elected officials fought for a solution such as having the medication that is proven to help with COVID, readily available to residents — as they do for issuing mask mandates, individuals could get behind it and support that.
“You're treating residents as if they don't have enough sense to come in out of the rain,” she said. “That's the preferred method that’s being done. Social engineering is indeed the method that Shawnee City Commission prefers.”
They have demonstrated that abundantly over the last few years, she said.
“And it benefits you,” she said. “Gov. Stitt hasn't passed such an action; why would a city that has only had 1,203 cases out of a population of 31,000+?”
The numbers don't compute, she said it doesn't make sense.
“I'm confident that what I'm saying and what everyone else in this room is going to express, is most likely going to fall on deaf ears,” she said. “You're going to pass the extension, and the thing is you knew in July when you passed the first one, you knew them that you was going to extend it in September, and you know tonight, that come November you're going to extend it again.”
At this moment, she said there doesn't seem to be an end for Shawnee residents, unless some higher entity comes in and intervenes.
“This, right now, is about control of the sandbox,” she said. “And right now you gentlemen have control of the sandbox, right now.”
Vince Hassen said he read on the city website that there have been seven deaths in the Shawnee area.
“And these deaths are tragic, they really are,” he said. “But I don't think it constitutes a health emergency.”
Citing that twenty four people dying in 2018 from car accidents did not start a panic or a rush to mandate a 10-mile-an-hour speed limit.
“There was no shutting down of activities to keep people off the roads,” he said. “The death rate for this (COVID-19) is dropping,” he said. “According to the CDC website, the death rate for COVID-19 is .4 percent of all demographics.”
For children, the chance of dying from COVID is one in 3.5 million, he said.
“And yet we're making our kids wear masks to school,” he said. “Case numbers are meaningless; we need to look at the death rate — let's not get into the irrational fear and make the whole population subject to invasive regulations.”
This mandate violates residents' rights to self-determination concerning their own health care, he said.
“Many studies show adverse effects to wearing masks, including headaches, oxygen deprivation, high blood pressure, rebreathing the virus particles that you have and can potentially cause brain problems,” he said. “People should have the right to look at the risks and benefits of mask-wearing and make their own decisions,” he said.
He said the CDC is changing stances constantly.
Devra Waterman approached the subject from a different angle. She asked the commission to answer a specific question — what will it take to stop the mandate?
“What has got to change, whether it's a limited amount of COVID new cases or vaccines available — we already have treatment, let's push the treatments,” she said. “The curve was flattened to let the hospitals catch up, they are ready now,” she said. “If we can just get your thoughts on where you guys are going with it, so this isn't just rolling downhill, constantly kicking the can.”
She said the public is watching city leaders and how they are following the mandate.
Erin Wickizer said there is no proof that masks are accurate.
“And there is no proof that wearing a mask doesn't create a high risk; I've been sitting in this room watching everybody touch their masks,” he said, “and people shaking hands or touching this (speaker sign-in) pen. We know the virus is spread by touch.”
Commissioners had similar responses to the issue — while many agreed that no one wants to or enjoys wearing the masks, doing so to protect others is worth the sacrifice and inconvenience.
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
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.
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.