By Conrad Dudderar
With COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations down and more people getting vaccinated, Mayor Shelli Selby has lifted the City of Yukon’s mask policy.
Selby signed a proclamation at 10 a.m. April 1 that removed mask requirements in place since July 2, 2020.
“We will still have the right to wear masks if we choose to,” Selby said. “We’ll still see people wearing their masks in public to protect others in our city.”
For nine months, servers and cooks in Yukon bars and restaurants and anyone inside a City of Yukon-owned building had to wear face coverings to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The mayor’s decision to sign the new proclamation came after a meeting of Yukon’s COVID-19 Task Force.
A strong majority of members who spoke at the meeting agreed it was time for the City of Yukon to remove its mask guidelines – enacted last summer after a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
“Our whole goal was to get our hospital numbers back to manageable because they were being overwhelmed and it was not safe,” Selby said. “And our numbers are drastically down.”
Yukon’s mayor emphasized the city’s guidelines were only for restaurant servers, cooks, bartenders, and city buildings.
“Each business still has the right so say you cannot enter their business without a mask,” Selby said. “And we still encourage people to wear a mask. We’re not saying, ‘OK people, throw your mask away – we’re done’.
“We can revisit this at any time,” she told task force members. “If we see a surge again, we can come back and change it anytime we feel we need to.”
COVID-19 case numbers are dropping across Oklahoma. And that downtrend trend continues in Canadian County.
“We’re averaging 9.3 new cases per day per 100,000 people,” said Maggie Jackson, community engagement and planning director for the Canadian County Health Department. “We’ve dropped to the ‘yellow’ alert level, but we’re still higher in Canadian County than Oklahoma County.
“Our cases are still dropping, but we still have over 300 active cases and we’ve not had a day where we’ve had 0 positives. People are testing positive every day and we’re still on the look-out for COVID-19.”
Several city officials told fellow Yukon COVID-19 Task Force members they did not see a problem with removing the mask requirement.
“Even if we didn’t have it, some people will still wear masks,” Yukon Police Chief John Corn said. “They’re going to do it because it’s become routine and it’s part of their nature. It gives them that peace of mind, individually.
“If we lifted the mandate, I don’t know that we see a drastic change in the behavior of our community – what they’ll do individually.”
Yukon hospitalization numbers are down significantly, COVID-19 Task Force members were advised.
“I feel very optimistic and positive that we’re going in the right direction,” said Teresa Gray, president of INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital.
Gray reported April 1 that ICVH had three patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
“And only one of those is active – the other two are considered recovered,” she said.
Meanwhile, only one ICVH caregiver was off work after testing positive.
ICVH has welcomed volunteers back and plans to fully reopen building entrances.
The Yukon hospital still has its mask requirement, but face shields no longer have to be worn in non-COVID areas.
Oklahoma recently moved to phase four of its vaccine rollout, with everyone age 16 years and above now eligible to get their shots.
Some 31.6% of Canadian County residents age 16-plus have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. And 65.6% of the county’s residents age 65 and above have gotten at least one dose.
“The recommendation is still that you wear masks even if you’ve been vaccinated,” Jackson told fellow Yukon COVID-19 Task Force members. “It looks like there’s some positive research that’s just come out this week – the potential for vaccinated people to not transmit the virus.
“We’re still recommending wearing masks in public places, especially with those who haven’t been vaccinated.”
The City of Yukon has provided an incentive for employees to get vaccinated – three days off.
“We really wanted to do that for our employees,” City Manager Tammy Kretchmar said. “It’s been rough over the last year, having to wear masks all the time (in city buildings). It’s been difficult for everyone having to adjust.”
The Canadian County Health Department is seeking local churches to host vaccinate outreach events.
Mobile teams are available to come provide vaccine shots to residents facing difficulties making an appointment and other challenges like not having transportation or Internet access.
Mayor Selby offered her church, West Metro, within walking distance to several Main Street motels.
About 70% of Yukon Police and some 75% of Yukon Fire personnel have received the vaccine.
Yukon Fire Chief Shawn Vogt said his department looks forward to reopening for station tours. The Yukon Fire Department had stopped giving tours to visitors, including school groups and children, due to COVID-19.
“I would really like to get that started back up,” Vogt said. “The weather’s getting nice, and we really like for kids to come by and see our fire trucks.”
Meanwhile, in-person community coffees recently started back up in Yukon.
“Some people ‘mask up’ and some people don’t,” Yukon Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Shelton shared. “But everybody’s been very accepting whatever you do and there’s not the ‘mask shaming’.”
Read more about the April 1st Yukon COVID-19 Task Force meeting in the Saturday, April 3rd print and online editions of The Yukon Progress.