Tahlequah city officials voted 3-1 to pass a citywide mandate on “face coverings” during an Aug. 3 meeting.

Before the discussion among councilors and attendees began, Mayor Sue Catron acknowledged the topic was controversial.

“We are a community that cares about each other. We care about our businesses. We are anti-shutdown just almost across the board, and we believe this may be a way to keep that from happening,” Catron said.

Ward 2 Councilor Dower Combs was first to voice his opposition to the mandate, and he cast the sole dissenting vote.

“I think there are other ways that we can handle this. One would be by more intense testing. I think Cherokee Nation is a prime example of that,” Combs said. “They ramped up their testing on the hepatitis. They combated that, and that’s what we need to do here. We need ramp up the testing so we can head off those possible people who could be spreading this.”

Ginger Allen, a Tahlequah teacher, agreed with Combs and said she doesn't believe it’s the city’s responsibility to give her medical advice.

“My doctor wants to tell me to cover my face, then I’ll listen to my doctor tell me that,” Allen said. “I don’t feel like it’s my city’s job to give me medical advice.”

Allen cited the statistics of current cases in Cherokee County, plus the county’s population as of 2019. She explained the positive rate is roughly .1 percent of the residents here.

“I don’t feel this is a number that we need to instate a mask mandate, first of all. Second of all, like I said before, my doctor is the one who should tell me I should cover my face or not, not my city,” Allen said.

Ward 4 Councilor Trae Ratliff asked Allen what the number would have to be for her to be OK with the city's issuing a mask mandate.

“I do want to reiterate that my city doesn’t have the job of telling me medical advice; that’s what my doctor does,” Allen said. “If I come up with a number, I feel that’s between my doctor — whatever my medical decision is — it’s between my doctor and myself. It’s not between my city and myself.”

Ratliff made a motion to pass the ordinance, while Ward 1 Councilor Bree Long seconded. Before the motion was passed, Long added her thoughts on the matter.

“If we have the ability as local government to proactively to try to keep our local economy vibrant, our local citizens employed, and our local businesses open by wearing masks, we must take action to do just that,” Long said.

Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Highers also voted in favor.

The ordinance will immediately go into effect and expire Nov. 30, unless a number of factors fall into place: expiration of all COVID-19 emergency declarations issued by state and national officials; or a repeal, or modification/extensions voted by the City Council.

What's next

The next City Council meeting will be Aug. 17 on Zoom.

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