City officials overturn short-lived compromise,
but split vote causes 30-day implementation delay
By Ryan Horton
By a split vote of 4-3, Choctaw became the ninth municipality in the Oklahoma City metro area to pass a mask mandate.
However, that mandate won’t be in effect until Sept. 5.
When city leaders met in late July to consider a mask mandate, the Choctaw City Council instead moved to pass a resolution instructing all businesses to post a notice at their door either requiring a mask or asking patrons to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, regarding face coverings, washing hands and social distancing.
However, city leaders in support of a full mandate made clear their intention to revisit the issue if COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the area, and the compromise proved to be short-lived.
City officials waited just two weeks to expand the controversial requirements of citizens by approving a citywide mask mandate, Aug. 6.
However, with a 4-3 vote, officials failed to meet the supermajority required to pass the accompanying emergency clause. That means the ordinance won’t be in effect until 30 days after approval.
The ordinance, which resembles those passed in Oklahoma City and Midwest City, shall remain in effect until at least Oct. 6 or the expiration of all COVID-19 emergency orders in the state.
When in effect, a covering that covers a subject’s mouth and nose, must be worn by most people in most public settings within the city limits.
The ordinance has a long list of exemptions, and also doesn’t have a set fine for violation.
Both issues were addressed by councilmembers in opposition of the ordinance as written.
Ward 1 Councilman Chad Williams compared the ordinance to a seatbelt law.
“If this was truly about saving lives and a health emergency, we wouldn’t have an exemption for this. If this were truly about safety, we’d need to remove all the exemptions from this. There’s no exemptions for seatbelts, because that was passed for safety,” said Williams. “Strongly recommending should be the way we go about this. Yes, I believe we should wear a mask. Everyone should wear a mask, but absolutely mandating it is the wrong way of doing it.”
Businesses and private property owners can already have people removed or charged with criminal trespass for not wearing masks or failing to comply with other rules and regulations put in place on that property.
“If most of the stores are already requiring a mask, and we’re not going to go around fining everybody I don’t see what this is going to change,” said Ward 3 Councilwoman Jeannie Abts.
As written, the mandate was set to expire two months after the Aug. 6 meeting. Abts motioned to change the ordinance to just 30 days, but that was rejected gaining only Williams’ support.
Mayor Randy Ross said his personal life plays a large factor into why he wants to see people wearing masks. Ross referenced his wife’s ongoing battle with stage four cancer, and his pregnant daughter-in-law as primary motivation.
“We said two weeks ago if the numbers didn’t go down, we’d revisit this,” said Ross. “I see a lot of people wearing masks, but not all of them. Everyone is saying you need to wear a mask, and many of them are saying they need to be mandated. These are people at the top. I wasn’t for this two weeks ago near as much as I am now. Think of your neighbors.”
Other councilmembers in support of the mandate echoed that concern about rising case numbers and safety of the community.
“We had 93 (cases of COVID-19) in the first 131 days, and 14 days since we had our last meeting the cases are up to 65 additional cases. It took us 131 days to get 93 cases, and just 14 days to get 65 new cases,” said Ward 2 Councilman Mike Birdsong.
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Choctaw had 18 active cases of coronavirus when the mandatory posting of CDC guidelines was passed, and 29 active cases two weeks later when the mask mandate was approved.
When the council met July 21, Choctaw had 93 reported cases of COVID-19, and of those 75 patients had already recovered and two had died, according to the state health department.
When officials met Aug. 6 and approved the mask mandate, Choctaw had 155 confirmed cases, 126 recoveries and two deaths.
To be considered a recovery, OSDH requires the person to not be hospitalized or deceased after 14 days since the onset of symptoms.
It should be noted that sorting OSDH cases by zipcode paints a more accurate picture of coronavirus numbers by address. The Choctaw zipcode (73020) covers an area about twice the size of the municipal boundaries of the City of Choctaw, which is the area that would be affected by any mandate.
Phil Maytubby, with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, was in attendance to give an informative question and answer talk and advocate for the mask mandate before council took the vote.
“We’re not trying to be alarmists. We just want to protect everyone the best we can,” said Maytubby. “When you’re out in public you may be standing next to someone who is asymptomatic or presymptomatic. That means they don’t even know. That’s fine for the healthy people, but it’s not for the people they get around that have health issues. The mask takes care of all of that. Mask wearing reduces our transmission by about 70 percent, especially if both people have a mask on. Distance helps as well, and that’s why we still recommend distancing even with a mask on.”
Several citizens were in attendance to voice their opposition to what they view as an overreach of local government.
Several echoed similar arguments that local government should put freedom of choice over mandates to regulate public safety.
The effectiveness of any such mandate, and the cost to taxpayers was also repeatedly questioned.
“This seems like a slippery slope that municipalities shouldn’t go down. What’s best for New York isn’t best for Oklahoma City, and what’s best for Oklahoma City isn’t necessarily what’s best for Choctaw,” said Cody Brewer. “I feel like we should be free thinkers and make decisions based on what’s best for us. I don’t have a problem with masks at all. I work in the medical field, and I do have a problem with the mask mandate.”
How they voted