ENID, Okla. — Enid City Commission voted against an ordinance requiring people to wear masks in public areas after an emergency meeting lasting more than four hours Wednesday.
All members of the commission were in attendance in person with the exception of Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell, who joined the meeting via Zoom.
Mayor George Pankonin, Ward 1 Commissioner Jerry Allen, Ward 2 Commissioner Derwin Norwood, Ward 5 Commissioner Rob Stallings and Ward 6 Commissioner David Mason voted against the ordinance. Ezzell and Ward 4 Commissioner Jonathan Waddell voted in favor of it.
Under the ordinance, masks would have been required in all indoor public facilities with these exceptions:
• Children under 5 years old.
• People for whom a mask would impair an existing health condition.
• People in communication with a person with a disability when a mask would impede the disabled person understanding.
• People with a disability that makes masks impractical.
• People who are maintaining social distancing.
• People in their own homes, the homes of companions, or family members.
• People receiving personal care requires a mask not be worn.
• People exercising or engaging in sports while maintaining social distancing and where proper measures are in place for sanitizing surfaces.
• Public safety personal.
• People whose occupation does not allow the wearing of a mask.
• People who are eating or drinking while maintaining social distance other than with their family members or companions.
Norwood said these exceptions meant the ordinance essentially is what the city already has in place. Currently, the city encourages people to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Ezzell said the ordinance was needed because it puts teeth into the emergency declaration the city has in place with a $100 to $200 fine for noncompliance, plus expenses.
“I don’t want it to come back on the city and have individuals say (enforcement is) discriminating against certain ones,” Norwood said.
Enid Police Chief Brian O’Rourke said during public comment the ordinance was unenforceable.
“It’s difficult to enforce,” O’Rourke said. “I really don’t want to put our officers in that position.”
The public discussion portion of the meeting lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours, with around 50 people speaking to commissioners about their opinions on the ordinance. About 40 of them were against the measure for different reasons.
Public discussion on the mandate began with public health officials from Garfield County Health Department, Integris Bass Baptist Health Center and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.
Maggie Jackson, Oklahoma State Department of Health community engagement director for Northwest Oklahoma, began with listing the COVID-19 numbers for Garfield County.
Garfield County, as of Wednesday, has 138 cumulative positive cases, 95 recovered and two deaths. There are 41 active cases in Garfield County.
Jackson said from the beginning of March to the beginning of June, Garfield County had about one new COVID-19 case a day. Around June 12, Garfield County spiked to about five to seven cases a day, then dropped again.
“Now, around July 13, we are averaging about five new cases a day,” Jackson said.
Finny Mathew, Bass chief hospital executive, said the medical center supports social distancing, personal hygiene and the mask mandate.
St. Mary’s Dr. Sara Oldham said if the situation gets much worse, Enid will struggle to take care of its residents, as Enid is on a “medical island.”
Enid is not able to transfer patients to other, bigger medical facilities, Oldham said.
“There are some services and specialists we flat out do not have here in Enid,” Oldham said. “If I have a critical patient in the ICU, that critical patient is staying in my ICU, and we are having to find ways to help take care of them because the metro areas are completely full.”
Several residents against the ordinance said it was a violation of their constitutional rights for the city to require them to wear a mask. At least three people, including Wings To-Go manager Brian Hacker, said their claustrophobia would not allow them to wear a mask.
X-ray technician Monica Truluck said she was a “health care worker against masks.”
“(Masks) are not going to do a dang bit of good in my opinion,” Truluck said, after complaining about the facial breakouts masks give her.
She admitted to never being tested for COVID-19 when asked from an audience member.
Several other residents asked for the commissioners to recommend masks, but not mandate them in the city. Others questioned the type of masks the city would require, saying cloth masks do not work.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a press release Tuesday that this was not the case.
“In an editorial published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), CDC reviewed the latest science and affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities,” the release stated. “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”
The first Enid resident, who was not a health professional, to speak in favor of the mask ordinance was 12-year-old Amy Martinez, who has Type 1 diabetes.
Martinez asked commissioners to mandate masks in the city so she can feel safe.
“The only way to help people like me to have a somehow normal life is to promote social distancing and wear a mask,” Martinez said.
Martinez was one of only 10 residents who spoke in favor of the mandate at Wednesday’s meeting.
NAACP President Lanita Norwood said she wears a mask out of love for others in the Enid community.
“To me, masks equal love,” Norwood said. “We say we love because God is love, and we have a member (of the church) that has cancer, and I can’t love her enough to cover my mouth in case I am asymptomatic?
“That’s not love.”