Yukon City Council takes no action on mask mandate

4-1 vote delays fate of mayor's proposed emergency proclamation revision that could require people to wear masks in public

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Yukon's Elaine Burris speaks against a proposed mask mandate at the Tuesday night Yukon City Council meeting inside the Centennial Building, 12 S 5th. Burris said the virus is "purely political" and called upon people to get back to living their lives normally. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

By Conrad Dudderar

Senior Staff Writer

The Yukon City Council voted 4-1 at its Tuesday night meeting to postpone making any revisions to an emergency proclamation that could have mandated masks in public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Shelli Selby voted no, against postponing action. Selby – after receiving input from members of Yukon’s COVID-19 Task Force – had proposed revising her emergency proclamation to require people to wear masks while in public until Dec. 10 in the City of Yukon.

But Yukon’s mayor emphasized that she wanted the entire city council to make the decision.

Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby

During a study session before Tuesday night’s council meeting, Selby quoted statistics from the Canadian County Health Department indicating COVID active daily cases had doubled in recent weeks.

She pointed to recent closures of City of Yukon facilities, positive tests among Yukon fire and police personnel and full patient capacity at local hospitals due to COVID cases.

Yukon’s mayor did acknowledge a mask mandate would be difficult to enforce.

“What do I want from all of this?” Selby said. “I want people to do the right thing and wear a mask without having to be told to. I don’t want to do a mask mandate.

“But folks, we’ve been trying this for six months and it’s just not working. I don’t vote for what I want; I vote for what’s best for Yukon.”

Yukon’s mayor believes having a mask mandate would help the economy because people won’t shop or eat here without one.

But Selby was the only council member advocating for a citywide mask requirement Tuesday night.

Vice Mayor Jeff Wootton said he’s been against the city council having a mask mandate, saying that’s crossing the line.

“I’m not saying we should not be using masks; I use one every day,” said Wootton, a Yukon schoolteacher. “I think that’s our choice.”

Ward 3 City Council Member Donna Yanda said she didn’t think people should be “forced to do anything” but be “smart in what they do.” Yanda also believes COVID case numbers have been inflated.

“It’s sometimes being used as a tool for financial gain in certain situations,” she opined.

Several council members and residents referred to vagueness in the draft language of the proposed change, which states the public must wear masks “at all times” while in public.

“I can’t vote for it as it sits,” Ward 4 City Council Member Aric Gilliland said. “It doesn’t say ‘if you’re in groups’ or ‘if you’re near people’. It says, ‘if you’re in public’.”

As the text of the proposed proclamation revision is written, Gilliland said someone could be fined for not wearing a facemask when walking to their mailbox. There also are no medical exemptions provided in the draft.

Gilliland cited statistics indicating Oklahoma City’s mask mandate – in effect since July 17 – has made little difference in curbing the increase in COVID cases.

Ward 1 City Councilman Rick Cacini made the motion to postpone, saying further study was needed on the current proposed revision to the emergency ordinance. He said the document “has some holes in it.”

“As you can see, it’s not going anywhere,” Cacini said.

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OPPONENTS SPEAK UP

Eleven people spoke at Tuesday night’s council meeting, with nine voicing opposition to a mask mandate.

Echoing the sentiments of Vice Mayor Wootton, Yukon’s Chris Martin called the proposed mask mandate an “overreach” of city government.

“We are all adults,” said Martin, who lives on Royal Lane. “We all understand that we need to wash our hands (and) we need to wear a mask, every once in a while, when we’re around a bunch of people.”

But Martin said a citywide mandate would hurt local businesses – and the City of Yukon needs those sales tax dollars to fund local services in this economy.

Amanda Livecy, who lives on Morningside Drive and owns the Big Easy restaurant on Main Street, said she did not want to have to ask her employees to enforce a mask requirement on customers.

Livecy also referred to costs that restaurants already have incurred due to the virus, which would increase if she must provide masks to customers.

“I understand that this is real, I understand people have been very sick and lost their lives, and it is tragic,” she said. “And I understand that masks do help. I get that.

“I just don’t think (a mandate) is right for our town.”

Yukon’s Cailey Entz is among nearly a dozen residents who spoke during Tuesday night’s city council meeting to share their opinions on the mask issue. Entz, who lives on Mark Avenue, voiced her opposition to what she called a “restrictive and unjustified” mask mandate that was considered – calling it a “gross abuse of power” for a city official. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

Elaine Burris, who lives on Novak Circle, opined the COVID virus is “purely political pushed by the left, promoted by the media and censored by big tech.”

Burris called on the council not to force people to wear “face diapers,” which she said cause other health issues.

“Masks must remain a personal choice – not forced by any entity,” she said.

The Yukon woman believes keeping restrictions in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage – with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Burris believes lockdowns should end and life must return to normal for people who are not vulnerable – resuming all extracurricular activities, restaurants opening to full capacity and people returning to their workplaces.

Practicing simple hygiene like washing hands and staying home when sick should suffice, she added.

Anita McNeil, who lives on Sequoia Park, shared state health department data indicating that active COVID cases are declining.

“When and where do I wear a mask?” she asked rhetorically. “Would I wear a mask when I’m driving by myself on public roads? Do I wear a mask when I’m riding a bicycle? Would I wear a mask when I’m fishing by myself?

“How about on my front porch having a cup of coffee? Do I wear a mask then?”

McNeil wondered what was being gained by having a mask mandate.

“Is it because it makes you feel better?” she added. “Because obviously, statistically, it doesn’t stop the virus.”

Kay Bautista, a nurse who lives on Kingsway Drive, refuted claims about the effectiveness of masks in preventing the virus spread.

“The science says this (mask) will cause you more problems with your immune system,” Bautista told council members. “You are more at risk because you’re breathing in carbon dioxide, which you just breathed out. This causes your oxygen level to lower.

“If I’m not sick, I don’t need to wear a mask. I’m not contaminating anybody.”

Bautista said mandating masks is “really not about safety” but “more about social control.”

Candy Schwartz, who lives on Cedarburg and owns Davis Carpet on Main Street, said people should choose for themselves whether to wear a mask when entering her business.

“It’s up to the individual,” Schwartz said. “We’re all adults. We all want to be healthy. And this (mandate) is an overreach on this council’s part.”

Yukon’s former municipal court administrator, Schwartz believes the proposed masking requirement would violate people’s civil liberties.

FOR THE MASK MANDATE

Speaking in favor of a citywide masking requirement was Spanish Cove CEO Don Blose, a member of Mayor Selby’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Spanish Cove CEO Don Blose

A former state health official, Blose said he supported a temporary mask mandate for anyone who is “COVID-fatigued” and wants this pandemic “to be over sooner rather than later and with the least amount of devastation possible.”

Blose, who worked 26 years for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said a masking requirement is the simplest, least expensive and most proven “best practice” to protect the public’s physical and financial health.

“I realize that masks are a divisive issue for some, yet they shouldn’t be,” Blose said. “I don’t like wearing a mask any more than the next person.”

The masking proponent called the council’s support of a mask requirement a “small yet very responsible gesture” to help take fear out of the community and “restore the faith in each other.” Blose believes it’s the best way to “keep commerce going” in Yukon.

“The longer this lingers, the more expensive things will become,” he said. “If you think your health insurance is high now – or the City’s health insurance premiums are high – just wait until this is all over.

“The longer we go, the more expensive the aftermath becomes.”

During Tuesday’s council study session, Yukon’s Jay Knott – a nurse in the COVID ward of a Midwest City hospital – also voiced support for a mask mandate to “mitigate this pandemic.”

Referring to a “second wave coming,” Knott called COVID-19 a terrible disease that “literally steals the air from you.”

“The virus is real – and it is serious,” Knott said. “As of today’s data from state health officials, over 13,000 Oklahomans have been reported as new cases today alone with 11 new deaths. Total numbers are showing that 2.5% of the total population of the state have contracted the virus, with a death rate somewhere about 1%.

“That may not seem like a lot to you, but I ask you this, city council, what’s an acceptable death rate to you?”

COVID-19 is 11 times “more deadly” than the flu, Knott added, fearing the death rate will rise with the cold and flu season coming.

“COVID is already the third leading cause of death in the country; it does not need to be exacerbated, especially when it can be so easily addressed,” Knott said.

“To break it down in simple form – masks save lives. … Together we can and will beat this horrible pandemic.”

Based on input she’s received from the public, Mayor Selby believes people are evenly divided on the mask issue.

“There’s a whole other group out there that is angry we haven’t done more,” she said. “It’s not just the people who don’t want to wear masks. The ones who want it are just as angry.

“It’s OK for people to be angry. I’m angry. I want this all to go away. But it hasn’t and we are not able to keep our community safe in our own community hospital.”

AGREE TO DISAGREE

Yukon’s current COVID-19 emergency proclamation requires restaurant servers, bartenders and cooks to wear masks on duty and anyone who enters a city-owned building to don a face covering to protect city employees.

Mayor Selby said she created the COVID-19 Task Force to rebut criticism she was making decisions on her own. She said she received input from city administrators, fellow council members and many medical professionals before signing the current proclamation.

After last week’s task force meeting, the mayor related that members agreed “it was time for the city council to make some decisions.”

Most task force members wanted a mask mandate, and those who didn’t at least wanted the council to vote on the item.

Ward 4 City Council Member Aric Gilliland (left) cites statistics Tuesday night indicating Oklahoma City’s mask mandate (in effect since July) has made little difference in curbing COVID case numbers. At right is Ward 1 Council Member Rick Cacini, who also expressed opposition to a mask mandate and said the proposed Yukon emergency proclamation revision “has holes”. (Photo by Conrad Dudderar)

Near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting after the 4-1 vote to postpone indefinitely, both Vice Mayor Wootton and Council Member Gilliland told Mayor Selby they respected her for her stance although they disagree with her on this issue.

“I will have her back because I know she’s operating in what she believes is the best interest of the people of Yukon,” Gilliland said.

Before closing the meeting, Yukon’s mayor joined fellow council members in thanking residents who came out to speak on the issue.

“That’s why it’s great that we can live in America,” Selby said. “We can disagree and still work together. We have that ability to speak our mind and to say what we want to.”