It’s a bumpy ride, this reopening of America. Mayor Will Joyce of Stillwater, Oklahoma issued an emergency proclamation last Thursday requiring the use of face masks in restaurants and stores, effective May 1. By Friday, the proclamation was “amended”.
The order was to go into effect Friday as part of the city’s reopening plan. Customers were to be required to wear face masks while patronizing the stores and restaurants opening back up after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak. Instead of issuing what he referred to as a “blanket order”, his order was that businesses require customers to wear a face mask in order to enter. He put the burden on business owners. Unfortunately, the business employees suffered the ire of residents. People issued threats to employees and one of the threats allegedly included a firearm.
And just like that, the mayor changed his mind. He realized that by putting the burden on the businesses, he endangered the employees who had nothing to do with the order. He “amended” his action to strongly encouraging the use of face masks for protection. “We should all get used to the idea of wearing a face-covering to protect one another.”
But we had a bit of false start today on face coverings. Masks are an easy and effective way to slow the spread and keep our recovery stays on track. It’s a tricky issue, not because a mask rule is unconstitutional (it’s clearly not), but because it’s so difficult to enforce.
— Mayor Will Joyce #StayHomeStillwater (@stillwaterwill) May 1, 2020
The mayor expressed skepticism that the city is on the downward trend with the coronavirus but said he realizes the community is not an island – it will move “forward in coordination with the state and the larger community around us.” He explained that he wasn’t reacting to “bullies” as much as he is trying to protect workers and those at city hall receiving threats. Mayor Joyce thought he was going with a middle-ground approach for safety using examples set by other communities across the country but realizes now that “it wasn’t the right approach for Stillwater.”
I am not the kind of person who backs down from bullies, but I also will not send someone else to fight the battle for me. I issued a revised order this afternoon to correct this problem, and we will continue to reevaluate our approach to face coverings.
— Mayor Will Joyce #StayHomeStillwater (@stillwaterwill) May 1, 2020
He responded to those making threats by saying “shame on you”. “To the people who resort to threats and intimidation when asked to take a simple step to protect your community: shame on you. Our freedom as Americans comes with responsibilities, too.” He’s right that freedom comes with responsibilities. Americans, however, don’t remain silent on government overreach. He should have just left the decision to individual business owners on how to manage store traffic.
A statement was issued by the mayor and City Manager Norman McNickle. McNickle sounds particularly disturbed that city residents cited the opinion that such an emergency proclamation was unconstitutional. He says that is a false claim.
City Manager Norman McNickle said, “In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse. In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view. In fact, a recent Federal lawsuit against Guthrie’s face covering order was fully dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.
“It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk. As mentioned, there is clear medical evidence the face coverings prevent COVID-19 spread; they are recommended by both the CDC and the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The wearing of face coverings is little inconvenience to protect both the wearer and anyone with whom they have contact. And, an unprotected person who contracts the virus can infect their own loved ones and others.
“It is further well settled that a business is private property to which people do not have unfettered right of entry. Just as a business has the right to enforce ‘No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service,’ the business can require a face covering as a condition to entry.
“The City of Stillwater has attempted to keep people safe by the simple requirement to wear a face covering to protect others. It is unfortunate and distressing that those who refuse and threaten violence are so self-absorbed as to not follow what is a simple show of respect and kindness to others.
The city manager doesn’t sound like he has much respect for the little people, does he? He’s probably right – lawsuits may not hold up in court over the legality of face mask mandates but we also know that such mandates aren’t necessarily enforceable, too. It depends on civil or criminal penalties in place for violations, so it varies from place to place. Some cities have such a system in place, others don’t.
Most importantly, social distancing requirements need to stay in place.
“The idea about the face mask is to prevent the virus from coming out of somebody’s mouth and nose, mostly out of their mouth,” said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, a professor in the infectious disease section at Yale School of Medicine, to CNN in April. “They prevent somebody, when they talk or sometimes when they sneeze or cough, from expelling virus and leading to infection in other people.”
Masks, however, are not a substitute for social distancing, which is still required to slow the spread of the virus.
The CDC began recommending the wearing of cloth face coverings in public spaces on April 3. By then there was new evidence available that people were spreading the virus asymptomatically, meaning the virus can spread through coughs and sneezes from people who are not suffering any symptoms of the coronavirus. In small or crowded spaces, this is a real risk. It’s important to remember that a mask protects others from you and their mask protects you from them.
I’ll continue to wear a face mask in public spaces and stores because ours is an at-risk household. It is my nature to be cautious with health issues anyway. Social distancing is the key, though. You don’t need to wear a mask while driving a car, especially if you are alone. I’ve actually seen people do that and it’s silly. Put on the mask before entering the store, though. You don’t really need a face mask outside while you’re walking your dog in the neighborhood unless lots of people are doing the same thing. In that case, give others plenty of space, walk on different sides of the street if possible. It’s just a matter of using common sense.