By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
The public has had their voices heard – loud and clear – on a proposed citywide mask mandate.
After lengthy discussion, the city council voted 4-1 this week to postpone a proposed amendment to the City of Yukon’s COVID-19 emergency proclamation.
Mayor Shelli Selby, on behalf of the COVID-19 Task Force, asked the council to consider revising the document to temporarily require people to wear masks when in public to slow the virus spread (see related story).
Eleven people spoke during Tuesday night’s council meeting, with nine voicing opposition to a mask mandate.
Echoing the sentiments of Vice Mayor Jeff 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.”
Elaine Burris, who lives on Novak Circle, opined the COVID-19 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 Drive, shared state health department data indicating that active COVID-19 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.
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-19 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.”