Starting this Saturday, face masks must be worn in the City of Stillwater.
On Thursday evening, Stillwater City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that requires the use of face coverings in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. It's similar to one passed by Norman City Council on Tuesday.
The ordinance requires face coverings to be worn in:
- places offering goods, services or items to the public (restaurants, bars, banks, personal services)
- places where employees interact with the public
- public places where people congregate (workplaces, churches, hospitals, gyms, parks)
- educational institutions (except for playing surfaces during games or practices)
During the meeting, which lasted more than two hours, citizens, doctors and public health officials spoke in favor of the ordinance, citing a need to put public safety over personal comfort.
"In a way, this is similar to other things that for the societal good initially when they were proposed were resisted — whether that be seatbelts, whether that be wearing gloves in the operating room, whether even sterilization that was resisted... affecting high birth rates," said Dr. Darby Pope, a thoracic surgeon at Stillwater Medical Center.
Meanwhile, opponents to the ordinance talked of fears of government overreach and losing personal freedoms.
"You are mandating masks today, but what will be next? Will we perpetually wear a mask?" Stillwater resident Austin Pollard said. "Opening the door of mandates that infringe upon liberty is dangerous. If you give that inch, we will soon be miles away from where we started."
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said he was voting yes because he wants to see Oklahoma State University and grade schools open in the fall and ensure Stillwater's economy is strong.
"This sort of an ordinance where we're asking people, more people in the community to put their mask on [and] try to help slow the spread of this disease is the least onerous option," Joyce said. "It is the easiest thing for all of us to do that does not include shutting down businesses, it does not include telling business owners what they can and can't sell.
People exempt from the face-covering requirement include children under the age of five, people walking or exercising in communal outdoor spaces and people with certain disabilities or medical conditions. People are also exempt while eating or drinking, while receiving dental or medical services or while swimming or using a splash pad.
Face coverings will also not be required in private homes, personal vehicles, personal offices or offices and workplaces that are not public service areas and where physical distancing can be maintained.
There is no specific penalty for individuals violating the ordinance, however they could be subject to prosecution under criminal trespass, disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct. Businesses or educational institutions failing to follow the ordinance may face regulatory or civil action.
The emergency ordinance goes into effect this Saturday and will expire on November 30, unless appealed or modified by the council. The date was picked to account for Oklahoma State University students, who will complete the fall semester online and not return to campus following Thanksgiving break.