City to consider mask mandate extension

JAMES BEATY | Staff photoMayor John Browne and the city council are set to consider extending the mandate requiring the wearing of masks or other facial coverings, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when city councilors meet Nov. 24 in the Clark Bass Building on the McAlester Campus of Eastern Oklahoma State College.

McAlester Mayor John Browne plans to ask city councilors to extend the city's mask mandate, which requires protective facial coverings be worn in public settings.

The city's current ordinance requiring the wearing of the protective facial coverings due to the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire Nov. 30.

An item calling for consideration and action on the extending the mandate is on the agenda for the next council meeting, set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 24. It's to be held at a new location, in the Clark Bass Building on the McAlester Campus of Eastern Oklahoma State College at 1802 E. College Ave.

The item ion the meeting agenda i to amend Chapter 54, Health and Public Welfare of the McAlester City Code, amending Article IV, COVID 19 Pandemic Face Coverings. If passed, there will be another proposal to declare it an emergency so the mask mandate extension would take effect immediately — about a week before the current ordinance expires.

If the mask extension amendment passes, but councilors do not pass the emergency clause, the mandate would not take effect for 30 days after the measure is passed.

Browne, who placed the matter on the agenda, said he does not anticipate any major changes to the existing ordinance.

"The only way we would change it is it would be in effect until we cancel it," Browne said. Of course other members of the city council could offer suggestions or motions for changes to part of the provision if they want.

Browne said he has already discussed the measure with City Attorney Joe Ervin.

"Everything's the same, but we take the expiration date out," Browne said. "Everything else will be the same, including the requirement to review it each month."The mayor said he's asking for the extension because he believes there's a need to keep the mandate in place.

"Clearly, the need is still there, the way cases are going in Oklahoma," Browne said. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Friday there have been 167,261 cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.

"They are expanding rapidly and even the governor is adding guidelines, " Browne said, referring to the governor's recent guidelines requiring bars to close at 11 p.m. and for restaurants to keep tables social-distanced with at least six feet between them.

"Our goal is to keep businesses open," Browne said."The best way is to continue the mask policy." Browne said the city's numbers do not seem to be growing at the same rate as the state's.

"We are taking the best steps to provide an ordinance to keep everyone safe and businesses open," Browne said.

"We don' know what path the virus will take or when a vaccination will be available," he said.

If the measure passes the way the mayor has in mind, it will keep a fine of up to $100 in place for those who allow people without masks or other protective facial coverings to enter their business, place of accommodation or other public setting.

City councilors voted during their last meeting to change their next meeting location from the Council Chambers at City Hall to the Eastern Campus after the state Legislature did not extend a temporary provision enacted earlier this year that allowed members of public bodies to participate in meetings by audio or video connections, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The room at Eastern, which is much larger that the Council Chambers at City Hall, should be large enough to allow for social distancing not only by the city councilors, but for those attending the meeting as well.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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