Coronavirus in Oklahoma: OKC Council will meet Friday afternoon to vote on a mask ordinance
The Oklahoma City Council will meet at 1 p.m. Friday to vote on a mask ordinance. The decision comes as Oklahoma reports new daily cases have exceeded 1,000 and Gov. Kevin Stitt says he has tested positive.
Mayor David Holt says 46 of the 50 biggest U.S. cities already require masks in public to slow spread of coronavirus. If passed, the ordinance will be called the "Oklahoma City COVID-19 Safety Code."
Sponsor Mark Stonecipher, the Ward 8 councilman, says in a written statement his intent is to "lower the demand being placed on our hospitals by flattening the curve through use of masks."
"This approach will allow our economy and employment to continue its recovery," Stonecipher wrote. "Adding the use of face coverings to our arsenal of hand-washing and social distancing creates a triple threat against COVID."
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Friday's meeting will be a teleconference, as all city council meetings have been since March 31. For instructions on how to take part or to comment on the proposed ordinance, find the agenda under the "Government" tab at okc.gov.
A draft of the ordinance says masks will be required "when entering and while inside any indoor place open to the public."
The ordinance would be in effect until Sept. 8, which differs from Norman's mask ordinance, which is effective through Nov. 30.
A first violation would be punishable by a fine not to exceed $50.
The draft ordinance includes suggested mask guidelines: that they be cloth and "fit snugly against the side of the face," that they be "secured snugly with ties or ear loops," that they include multiple layers of fabric, and that they "allow for breathing without restriction."
It is recommended that they be capable of being washed and dried "without damage or change to shape."
Friday's meeting will follow the council's COVID-19 summit Thursday morning with the Oklahoma City-County Board of Health for a pandemic briefing and discussion.
Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone said by text Wednesday afternoon that he planned "on listening to the statistics and discussions tomorrow with an open heart and mind. Not fully decided yet."
Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper said he was reviewing the specific language but would support a mask ordinance "to slow spread and begin making right our city's economy."
"I believe strongly we reopened too soon without a plan to keep our people safe, ensure our kiddos return safely to school in the fall, and make sure our shelter-in-place efforts weren't in vain," he said.
Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner said he opposed a mask ordinance.
Greiner said it was not government's role to mandate mask-wearing.
And it would be wrong to criminalize an individual's decision to go without one, he said.
The draft ordinance provides that individuals with three or more infractions would have to appear in Municipal Court.
Greiner said he had been inundated with emails for and against requiring masks, many citing reputable opinions on both sides of the issue.
"Who am I supposed to listen to?" he said. Greiner said he hasn't been wearing a mask when the family goes out to eat or to church.
The draft ordinance includes exceptions for children under age 6 and those for whom wearing a mask would "cause impairment or a hazard due to an existing physical or mental health condition."
Other exceptions excuse individuals in public and private schools unless masks are a school requirement, youth and adult sports, in private offices, in the dentist's office, and while eating and drinking in a restaurant.
The draft includes a "statement of findings" including a note that the recent surge in cases around the country "is raising conern that the economic recovery that likely began in May could falter if authorities re-impose lockdowns or consumers reduce spending out of fear that getting out and about could mean they get the sometimes fatal disease."
Findings also state local health care providers and public health officials trace the current surge in Oklahoma City, in part, to July Fourth gatherings where distancing and mask-wearing precautions were ignored.
Since mid June, hospitalization levels "have consistently remained at an elevated level that causes concern to public health officials," they say.
Oklahoma City's daily situation reports this week have noted eight of the top 10 ZIP codes for new cases are in the city and Oklahoma City has the highest cumulative number of cases in the state.
Tuesday's report said hospitalizations were rising statewide and increased 10% from Monday to Tuesday. "As hospitalizations rise the next benchmark to watch is deaths," it said.
Stonecipher, in his statement, quoted federal Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Robert Redfield as saying, "If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control."