The City of Lawton will follow the governor’s lead in determining whether to mandate masks or facial coverings while residents are in public, Mayor Stan Booker said Thursday during a virtual town hall meeting.
Booker was among six city and Fort Sill leaders who spent almost an hour addressing questions posed by residents about topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the discussion centered on masks, and while Booker said he believes masks are an important way to stop the spread of COVID-19, city leaders won’t be issuing the Emergency Proclamation that would allow the mayor and mayor pro tem to mandate them.
Lawton City Code authorizes the mayor and mayor pro tem, acting in concert, to order actions during times of civil emergency. Booker issued such an order in mid-March, but he and Mayor Pro Tem Jay Burk allowed that order to expire when Oklahoma moved into Phase 3 of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s reopening plan. City officials said then they would follow the state’s lead, in terms of mandates for businesses and other activities.
Thursday, Booker said while he has been involved in brief discussions about mandating masks, the focus has been on emphasizing that people know “what to do to slow the spread” but have allowed “human nature to take over.” Those discussion indicated there is no desire to go under a local emergency proclamation again, he said.
“We’d be relying on the governor and his leadership in that regard,” Booker said.
Stitt said last week he would not mandate masks/facial coverings, even if there was a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases. Reiterating that stance Thursday, Stitt said municipal leaders have the right to make that mandate that action and he has no plans to oppose it, adding legal staff doesn’t know whether governor has the right to overturn such decisions.
The Norman City Council already made that decision, and officials in Stillwater are discussing it, while Oklahoma City is strengthening its mask ordinances for businesses. The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma have said masks will be required for their students when they return for the fall semester. Cameron University President John McArthur said masks/facial coverings will be one of five “expectations” that the university is emphasizing for its students in Fall 2020, but masks will not be mandated.
The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, which includes western Oklahoma, said effective Saturday and until further notice, everyone age 6 and older will be required to wear masks or facial coverings while at public Masses, parish events and gatherings.
Dr. Scott Michener, chief medical officer for Comanche County Memorial Hospital, said he believes masks are important to containing the spread of COVID-19 and it frustrates him that more people won’t wear them.
“Evidence supporting masks is not debatable,” he said, adding scientific and epidemiological studies prove that in locations where mask mandates have been adopted, the spread of COVID-19 has been contained.
The problem, Michener said, is that wearing a mask has become a political issue rather than a public health issue. He said masks are what “we’re going to have to do” until a vaccine is developed, in order to minimize the spread of a virus and minimize deaths from COVID-19. It also will allow the country to return to normal, he said, adding that if 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. population would wear masks, children could return to school, the economy could stay open and business could get back to normal.
“What we’re doing is not working,” he said, adding that a study which had been circulating on social media saying that wearing masks could make you sick was not accurate.
Michener said while the U.S. has 4 percent of the world’s population, it has almost 25 percent of the worldwide deaths from COVID-19.
“And, we’re tolerating that,” he said. “I think it’s insane that we as Americans cannot step up and wear masks for each other.”
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Kamper, commanding general of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, said that isn’t a problem on the post. Kamper said that in an effort to control a virus he knows will be around for a time, he has authority to mandate masks be worn “where they need to be worn.” Today, that includes high traffic public facilities such as the Post Exchange, Commissary, an administrative building where personnel and administrative functions are performed, and all clinics and shopettes. He also has given his commanders the flexibility to designate other mandated places.
“That has stayed in place,” Kamper said, adding that when masks are worn, it may prevent someone from getting the virus or someone sick with COVID-19 from passing it to others. “It’s a two-way benefit.”
Col. David Zinnante, Fort Sill medical department activities commander, said Fort Sill knows masks are effective because it has proof. He said the post has designated “a handful” of people who have swabbed more than 8,000 individuals for COVID-19. Despite face-to-face contact, none of those testers have themselves tested positive because they always wear personal protective equipment.
“So, we know it works,” he said.
Michener said masks work because they contain respiratory droplets spread through actions such as coughing or sneezing.
“We absolutely know that the virus is carried through respiratory droplets,” he said, adding that while the Centers for Disease Control has “walked the fence” on whether the virus can be carried through the eyes, health care professionals know the respiratory virus enters the body through the nose and mouth. “Masks block droplets.”