On Friday, as Oklahoma began easing restrictions set in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, one city abruptly ended an order that business patrons wear face coverings, citing threats against employees.
As of Friday, Oklahoma joined other states in beginning to permit some places, including restaurants and gyms, to reopen, although people continue to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the state. Just hours after implementing the face covering emergency order on May 1, Stillwater, Okla., Mayor Will Joyce announced that the order was amended to ask businesses to “encourage, but not require, patrons to cover their faces” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in statement that soon after the city started requiring patrons to put on masks before entering spaces like restaurants and stores, “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,” McNickle said.
Mayor Joyce, who had previously voiced concern that it might be too soon to open businesses in Stillwater, wrote on Twitter that although he was prepared for some people to object to the order, he did not anticipate that there would be “physical confrontations with employees and threatening phone calls to city hall.”
“I hate that our businesses and their employees had to deal with abuse today, and I apologize for putting them in that position,” said Joyce. “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.”
He also criticized people who had responded aggressively to the rule, noting, “We should all get used to the idea of wearing a face covering to protect one another.”
“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,” Joyce wrote.
In the city’s statement, McNickle criticized people with the “mistaken belief” that requiring face masks is unconstitutional, saying, “No law or court supports this view.” He noted that a lawsuit against Guthrie, Oklahoma’s order was 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,” said McNickle. “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.”