By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
Two Canadian County elected leaders on Monday issued a stern rebuke of the Oklahoma City Council for requiring that people wear face masks in indoor public places.
Canadian County Sheriff Chris West and County Commission Chairman Marc Hader, noting about one-third of Canadian County’s population lives in Oklahoma City limits, believe people should have the right to decide whether to cover their faces.
Sheriff West has heard from many impacted Canadian County residents who are not pleased with the situation.
“I agree with some of those complaints,” West said. “They believe they should have a choice, and it not be forced upon them.”
After a recent steady climb in positive COVID-19 cases, the Oklahoma City Council on July 17 voted 6-3 to require anyone over age 10 to wear face coverings (over the mouth and nose) in indoor public places – until Sept. 8.
The ordinance provides for a $9 fine for first or second offenses, then $100 for third and subsequent offenses.
Citing his strong faith in the U.S. Constitution and the oaths he takes seriously, Sheriff West called Oklahoma City’s new mandate a “big overstep.”
“It might be one thing for them to want to make guidelines for their city offices, but once you get past that, I think business owners and citizens should be able to make their own decisions,” West said.
Hader, the second-term District 1 county commissioner, called it “disconcerting” to see government “over-stepping in its authority.”
“I don’t think our sheriff’s department cares to enforce this on behalf of Oklahoma City,” he said.
At least until Sept. 8, Hader said he’s going to do his shopping at businesses in municipalities outside Oklahoma City that don’t require customers to wear masks.
The Canadian County commissioner hinted that commissioners may consider a resolution to “protect our Oklahoma City citizens in Canadian County.”
Canadian County on Tuesday had 674 confirmed COVID-19 cases with four deaths and 513 recoveries, according to the Oklahoma State Health Department.
The July 20 data shows 25,433 positive cases across Oklahoma with 452 deaths and 19,750 recoveries.
EXEMPTIONS TO NEW RULE
People exempt from Oklahoma City’s face-covering mandate include children under the age of 11, people of the same household exercising or playing sports and people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or with a developmental disability.
People are exempt while eating or drinking, while receiving dental services and while swimming.
Face coverings are not required in federal, state or county buildings or facilities, public or private schools (unless required by the school), at religious services where social distancing is observed and workplaces that don’t have face-to-face interactions with the public.
The new Oklahoma City mask ordinance represents “this community’s best chance right now to protect our health care system from collapse,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said.
Holt noted the new mandate has been endorsed by all major Oklahoma City hospitals, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, City-County Health Department, and “virtually every health care entity” in the city and state.
In voicing their opposition to the mask requirement, Sheriff West and Chairman Hader noted that Oklahoma City is the largest city in Canadian County with about 45,000-50,000 residents among the county’s estimated 150,000 population.
“It’s my experience as sheriff, that we respond to a very large number of calls for service in that area (of Canadian County) that is Oklahoma City because of the lack of response,” said West, who will start his second term in January.
“Where it may take (OKC officers) an hour or longer, we can be there within five or 10 minutes.
“Yet at the same time, they want to enforce these edicts on our citizens. People feel like it’s a step on their freedom and liberty.”
Meanwhile, Hader cited growing questions about how effective wearing a face mask is in reducing virus spread.
“We’re hearing a lot more evidence that there may be as many – or more – detrimental aspects of having them,” he said. “Again, I’m not trying to preach against them.
“I am all for everybody who wants to wear their own. I’ve always been that way.”
In closing, Hader pointed out that three Oklahoma City Council wards extend into Canadian County – yet none of these council members live in Canadian County.
“Our 45,000-50,000 (Canadian County) citizens don’t seem to have much of a voice in Oklahoma City,” he said.