The Norman City Council voted Tuesday night to approve an ordinance to require mandatory face covering for the public 8-1, with outgoing Ward 6 Bill Scanlon opposed.

Their vote was delayed by dozens of citizens who opposed it during public comments Tuesday night.

The proposed ordinance requires members of the public to cover their faces with masks or cloth face coverings while inside public buildings such as businesses, city offices and where social distancing is not possible.

Despite the outcry from the public and the threat of recall petitions for odd-numbered wards looming over their heads, several council members said their vote would reflect their dedication to doing the right thing.

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people mad at me,” said Ward 3 Alison Petrone. “And you know what, they might be so mad at me that they’re going to recall me. Well, I would rather be recalled than not have a bunch of unnecessary deaths out there that I could have done something about.”

Ward 1 Kate Bierman said she supported the ordinance because many of her constituents are in ill health, impoverished and do not feel safe.

“The vulnerable and the immunocompromised have just as much right to move safely through this city as anyone else,” Bierman said. “By having this mask ordinance, that shows them that they can go into stores safely because not all of them have the luxury of ordering their groceries online. Not all grocery stores accept EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] cards for food stamps. Not everyone has that luxury...so if this is the reason I’m recalled, then so be it.”

Most who spoke against the ordinance were concerned about the infringement of personal liberty.

Joe Shepherd from Ward 5 said he wanted to “show his disdain for public officials who think they have the right to control other people’s lives by forcing us to wear a mask, which is unconstitutional.”

Some members of the Cleveland County Republican Party appeared by video in the city’s public comment area with masks that read, “This mask is as useless as the Mayor and City Council.”

GOP member Gary Barksdale wore the mask, which he told the council was in protest of the uselessness of the ordinance. He mentioned that people do not wear masks properly and said not even clinical masks completely prevent the spread of the virus.

“You’re the government,” he said. “You have no business telling me what I shouldn’t wear. It’s just a method of control to the god of safety...you ought to have us wear shirts that say socialism kills because more people have died under socialists like Stallin, Castro and Hitler than this disease.”

Others derided the ordinance as “pointless” because the ordinance allows those with exacerbating medical conditions to refrain from wearing masks.

“If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, they just claim a health exemption,” a citizen said. “So isn’t this ordinance pointless as it’s written?”

Others expressed disbelief and distrust in the national health leaders like Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, after reversing his opinion on the use of masks on April 3. New research on the novel virus caused Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control to urge the use of masks.

A recent spike in new COVID-19 cases prompted the council to draft an ordinance to increase the use of masks in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the ordinance states.

While there is no specific fine for failure to comply with the ordinance, people could be cited if other complaints arise such trespassing when refusing to leave an establishment after noncompliance, or disturbing the peace. Businesses will be required to post the signs and provide masks at no charge if the city is able to supply them to businesses. Business that do not comply could be fined up to $500. 

Mindy Ragan Wood

405-416-4420

mwood@normantranscript.com

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