City's mask mandate to end April 30

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
A face mask-required sign posted on the doors of City Hall Monday.

This week the Shawnee City Commission voted to follow suit with some other communities, choosing to end the mask mandate at the end of the month.

The board's face-covering requirement was originally put in place in July and then was extended a couple times — with the last end-date set for June 30.

With COVID-19 vaccines continuing to roll out, and being offered to most everyone at this point, as well as no spike in cases after Spring Break, some of Oklahoma's larger communities are expected to allow their the mask-wearing edicts to expire April 30.

More than half the commission voiced that when the ordinance was first established, it was the only option for protection at the time.

“We now have a vaccine available to those who want it,” Ward 1 City Commissioner Daniel Matthews said Monday.

City commissioners Travis Flood (Ward 3), Darren Rutherford (Ward 4) and Mark Sehorn (Ward 5) agreed the availability of the vaccine was a game-changer.

“(At first) masks were our best tool to slow it down, now vaccination is our best tool to slow it down,” Flood said.

Rutherford said his main concern in passing the order was to help get — and keep — children in school.

“It's gotten us here, now we've got vaccines,” he said.

Sehorn added he believes there's a lot of confusion for travelers on what regulations are in place depending on where one goes.

“They don't know whether to wear a mask or not,” he said. “We've got all these people coming from out of town who don't know what's expected.”

He said he thinks it would probably be a good time to get everybody on the same page.

Salter said politicians are not scientists, and the city needs to follow CDC guidelines.

Weaver said though many people have taken the vaccine, masks are an extra layer of protection.

“I'm adamant that I want to be protected and I want those that I love to be protected,” he said, citing he has lost several loved ones to COVID-19.

Matthews said his concern with the edict had more to do with the role of the government in the matter. Now that there are other options, he said his view of the government is that it should exit as far as a mandate.

The decision to end the ordinance was passed by a 5-2 vote. City commissioners Bob Weaver (Ward 2) and Ben Salter (Ward 6) opposed the motion.

“I hope we don't suffer the consequences of one individual because of what we're doing tonight,” Weaver said. “I strongly disagree; I think it's a major mistake.”

Mayor Ed Bolt said while preparing to vote on the subject he sought out feedback from other entities in the community.

He said after speaking with Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace, “she intends to keep the mask requirement through the end of the school year in May,” he said. In a compromise between the June 30 and April 30 optio, Bolt said he personally would have liked to see the city stick with the mandate through at least the end of the school year.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation (CPN) is leaving theirs until the end of June, he said.

Bolt also cited local health department reports pushing the importance of masks, which were supported by downward trends in cases in those cities that had mandates.

Residents still will be able to voluntarily wear masks, if they choose.

Also, moving forward, the board made it clear it supports the decisions of area businesses that choose to adhere to a mask requirement beyond 11:59 p.m. April 30, and encouraged residents to respect those rules on private property.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.