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City Council plans to renew mask mandate in special meeting

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Stillwater City Hall on August 20, 2020 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The Stillwater City Council members gathered in person on Monday at the Stillwater Community Center. 

During the opening minutes of the meeting, the council heard from a series of speakers regarding the renewal of the mask mandate that the council declared in May of 2020. The renewal would carry out the mandate until May of 2021.  

First, Joe Weaver spoke on behalf of OSU to thank the council for working with the school and to appreciate the thankful completion of the semester without students having to leave campus. He asked the council to renew the mask mandate. 

Next, Kelli Rader, the regional director of the Payne County Health Department spoke about the CDC’s recommendation of mask mandates even with the Oklahoma Governor's reluctance to pass a state-wide mandate. She too asked the council to renew the mask mandate.

Then Denise Weber, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Stillwater Medical informed the council of conditions in the hospital. According to Weber, the hospital responded to the pandemic by increasing the number of hospital beds so that the hospital was equipped to care for 15 COVID-19 patients. 

“Today we are using all of that additional capacity with five additional COVID patients holding in our emergency department,” says Weber. 

All told, seven citizens spoke in the meeting about the mask mandate including Bo Gamble, representing the Stillwater Public School District and Doug Major who represented Meridian Technology Center. One citizen expressed dissent at the renewal of the mask mandate.

The council also heard a total of 8 written opinions from citizens, including 5 in favor of the renewal and 3 against it. In addition, the council played 4 videos from citizens, 2 in favor and 2 against the renewal of the mask mandate. 

Once the public hearing was over, the council members themselves weighed in on the issue of the renewal.

First, Councilman Wedlake addressed some of the concerns about the mask mandate regarding the scientific efficacy of masks. He started by reminding the audience of his own medical credentials as a brain doctor. 

He moved forward to address the claim by some citizens that wearing masks causes a lack of oxygen, citing a peer-reviewed article from 2008 that examined the oxygen level of surgeons wearing masks after long surgeries. 

“These surgeons did have a statistically significant drop in their oxygen levels,” Wedlake said “But does that translate into something called clinical significance? In fact it does not.” He continued to explain that the surgeons’ oxygen levels decreased from 96% to 94%, but any oxygen level above 92% is considered normal. 

Next, Wedlake addressed the argument of some of the citizens that masks are not shown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Try though I might,” said Wedlake, “I have not found a randomized control trial to support the use of masks in preventing the spread of Sars CoV-2.” Instead Wedlake cited a growing body of what he called “observational data” to support the claim that the mask mandate would help prevent the spread of the virus. 

After the remaining council members gave their support for the renewal of the mask mandate, Mayor Joyce got the final word.

“I don’t understand why this is a controversial issue,” he said. “Everybody had a chance to send in their comments, we were all elected in public elections.” 

Joyce said that he was comfortable in renewing the mandate after hearing from representatives of the Stillwater community, but he was bothered by the charge that the council was overstepping it’s authority by issuing the mask mandate. He argued that the council had adhered to the laws and its role as a governing body laid out in the Constitution and that the mask mandate was well justified.

“I’m happy to be yelled at, I’m fine with the criticism that comes with it, but don’t tell me that this isn’t a constitutionally mandated act,” said Joyce.

After the discussion was finished, the renewal of the mask mandate advanced to a second reading with unanimous consent of the council. A special meeting is to be called next week so that the council can renew the mandate before it runs out. 

Later, it was announced that Vice Mayor Darlington’s council seat was being vacated, so the council will be up for election. 

“Whoever sits in that seat next will have very large shoes to fill,” said Councilman Wedlake.

The next public meeting of the Stillwater City Council is scheduled for Nov. 30th, at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the Council Hearing Room of the municipal building, and are also broadcast online on the city’s YouTube channel.