City revises safety regulations amidst confrontation, threats of violence

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The City of Stillwater lifted its face mask requirement after a citizen threatened employees and police for attempting to enforce the rule.

The City of Stillwater amended its new proclamation hours after it went into effect on Friday after businesses reported hostility toward their employees, Mayor William Joyce said.

The city issued its original proclamation with rules for reopening businesses on April 29, and the proclamation went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on April 30. The amended proclamation was issued the following day, and went into effect at 2:01 p.m. The amended proclamation no longer required face coverings be worn in most public places.

According to an emailed statement by Capt. Kyle Gibbs of the Stillwater Police, the department received a call from a local Walmart requesting guidance on enforcing the requirement for patrons to wear face coverings. According to the statement, some Walmart patrons were belligerent and threatened violence when employees tried to enforce the rule. The department also received an anonymous call threatening officers with gun violence if they attempted to force the caller to comply with the face covering rule, according to the statement.

Although the rules requiring face masks have been relaxed, the other requirements detailed in the proclamation are still in enforceable, Joyce said. He also said the city is still prepared to consider imposing business closures again if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“We’ll take the actions we need to take in the best interest of our community, and we’ll enforce those,” Joyce said.

He said police had issued at least one ticket as a result of the proclamation and would be willing to do so moving forward if necessary.

“We’re going to stand behind and enforce those orders,” Joyce said. “It’s just a matter of right now, trying to figure out practically what is the best way to deal with the face covering issue.”

Joyce said objections to a stay-at-home order were not enough to stop one from being issued at the beginning of this crisis and won’t stop him from issuing one again if it becomes necessary. He said wearing a face mask is still recommended in public places.

“Wearing a face mask in public is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you don’t unintentionally spread the virus in our community,” Joyce said.

Both Joyce and Vice Mayor Pat Darlington said the comments they received from residents had been mostly in support of requiring face coverings.

“We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the measures we’ve taken,” Joyce said. “Including attempting to expand the use of face coverings in public.”

Darlington, who previously supported requiring face masks in public, said in an emailed statement that she agreed the amendment was necessary to prevent hostility toward workers. In the statement, Darlington said the necessity of the decision both saddened and angered her.

“I want to stand up to the minority of citizens who think their rights are being quashed because the city is intent on protecting the health of all citizens,” Darlington said in the statement.

She said she believes the majority of Stillwater’s citizens will make the decision to wear a face covering without being required to.

“The encouraging and supportive emails, texts and calls that I have received go a long way toward keeping despair from overwhelming my normally positive spirit,” her statement reads.

Both the CDC and the White House recommend using cloth face coverings in public places to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The next meeting of the Stillwater City Council will be at 5:30 p.m. on Monday via teleconference. The meeting can be accessed live through the city’s website, and an update on the COVID-19 crisis is on the agenda. Requests to speak at the meeting can also be made at the city’s website, and must be submitted no later than 3 p.m. on the day of the meeting.