Ten residents urged the City Council Tuesday to reconsider its ordinance that mandates masks be worn in indoor public places — with one resident arguing the method used to pass Lawton’s mandate violates state law.
The 10 were reacting to a decision the council made at a special July 17 meeting, one that requires most residents to wear masks in commercial entities and other structures that are open to the public. Council members said the decision was made to help contain the spread of COVID-19, but backed away from a mandate that would have required masks in public outdoor places as well. The ordinance also allows for exceptions to the mask mandate, to include medical reasons for not wearing one and one for children under age 6.
City administrators had already mandated masks for most visitors and city staff inside city-owned facilities, while Comanche County commissioners imposed the mandate for the Comanche County Courthouse when it reopened June 1. Fort Sill recently strengthened its mandate for masks on the installation. But, the July 17 decision extended the mask requirement to most indoor structures in the city that allow public access, and city officials sent a letter to local businesses last week asking them to help enforce the mandate by refusing service to customers who are not wearing masks.
The decisions drew fire Tuesday from residents who had the same basic message: they want the council to erase its mandate. Council members took no action on the requests; they couldn’t have because it was not listed on Tuesday’s agenda.
Kimberly Shea said the mask mandate “affects us in every possible negative way,” telling council members she has a difficult time breathing when she wears one and adding that even 5 minutes in a store “is daunting.” Shea said she has talked to a business owner who says his business is suffering because of the requirement, adding it isn’t just that small business owner; others are losing customers as well.
“Please retract this mandate,” Shea said, adding there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the mandate for masks because even scientists are split on the benefits.
Kelly Sullins was critical of the letter sent out by the city manager and mayor, asking business owners to enforce the mandate in their businesses and refuse customers service, calling the request “way too much pressure on the businesses of Lawton.”
“That is not what they are in business for,” she said, adding businesses are facing the potential of conflicts and violence from those who do not want to wear masks.
Leslie Watts commented on the problems enforcing the mandate is having on workers in Lawton businesses, explaining her 21-year-old son has been told by his employer to enforce the mandate, which puts him in the situation of enforcing the policy and possibly being placed in a violent situation.
“He’s already been threatened,” she said.
Lori Lee Hunter said doctors who made the argument supporting the July 17 mask mandate don’t have credentials in the medical fields that should be involved (such as epidemiology) when making a decision as impactful as the mask mandate. She said wearing a mask is the equivalent of erecting a chain link fence and expecting it to “keep mosquitoes from biting you.” She also pointed to arguments that wearing masks might help compromise the immune system, and asked whether city officials had done any research into how many false positives COVID-19 tests produce, saying her sister’s doctor had estimated that figure at 30 to 40 percent of testing.
Health Jones, an Elgin mother whose family does much of its shopping in Lawton, said she is “looking forward to the council mandating exercise and healthy diets,” saying those, too, are for the public good. She said when the council makes that decision, she will show up for the meeting; in the meantime, she and her family will not be spending any money in Lawton.
Kandi Roeske, who owns Buffalo Grove, reiterated the effect the mandate has had on business, saying the requirement to wear masks within businesses should be up to the business owners. She also urged the council to do some “hard research” on COVID-19 and its spread, as she has done. And, she pointed to the effects that the mandate has had on residents, explaining her mother was told to leave a business because she was not wearing a mask. Her mother wasn’t given a chance to explain she couldn’t wear one, Roeske said.
Another speaker echoed those residential concerns, citing a woman who cannot wear a mask who was “screamed” out of a store, a single mother with special needs children who was told those children cannot attend daycare without masks, and restaurant owners who fear they are out of compliance with the mandate when customers sit at their tables without masks.
Another man, noting that science itself is divided on the issue of whether masks are a suitable deterrent to COVID-19, said Lawton didn’t follow state law when enacting its ordinance. He said state statute requires a health and risk assessment before such a mandate is put into effect, something the Lawton council didn’t do. That decision puts the city at risk for not doing something “our state says must be followed,” he said.