Local task force representatives are urging the use of masks as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.

As of Friday, July 10, Cherokee County was reporting 111 cases, with 88 recoveries. Eighty-one cases are from Tahlequah.

Ward 1 Tahlequah City Councilor Bree Long said the Crisis Task Force team is inviting representatives of Tahlequah Public Schools, Northeastern State University, and Indian Capital Technology Center to participate in future meetings to prepare for the upcoming school year.

“The group would like to collectively urge [the public] to wear masks to help prevent the two health care systems from possibly being overwhelmed,” Long said. “Additionally, they’re asking that we all continue to practice social distancing on behave of the greater good as we approach the fall.”

Trae Ratliff, Ward 4 councilor and head of the Economy Recovery Task Force team, said the panel reviewed criteria of the pandemic during a Thursday, July 9 meeting. Ratliff said the team discussed during Thursday's meeting some actionable issues, one of which was a mask mandate by resolution or ordinance.

“We will now be in the process of drafting that. We meet again on Thursday, July 16 to discuss further. The crisis task force meets the following Monday, July 20, as does City Council,” Ratliff said. "The task force is hesitant to just flip a switch and issue a mandate as other communities have done. We want everyone to know this is being taken very seriously and want input from all three parties before taking action.”

The second item discussed was waiving the downtown parklet ordinance fee. Ratliff said an existing ordinance would allow for creation of a seating area in a single parking spot in front of downtown restaurants.

“[It’s the] designated curbside pickup spot for downtown, in the same spot as the parklet, until they choose to construct or decide against it,” said Ratliff. “Our goal is not to restrict business from taking place. We want to help them get through this safely, and avoid having to close down altogether.”

Stilwell Mayor Jean Ann Wright announced last week that the wearing of face masks in businesses and public places will be mandatory. According to the mayor, Stilwell’s task force meets every week.

Tahlequah’s Crisis Task Force is still meeting twice a month. Catron hasn’t announced whether masks will be mandated in the city, but during a July 6 Tahlequah City Council meeting, Ratliff urged the public to wear masks.

“The message is pretty simple: Wear your mask. I think that alone seems to be the difference between us, as a community fighting, this thing effectively or not,” he said. “I’ll say it again, wear your masks. If we can continue to get that into the community, then hopefully we don’t have to go down the road of closures or ordinances. If we can keep those numbers low by people wearing their masks — it’s a simple and easy measure on everybody’s part and our responsibility to do so.”

Catron echoed Ratliff, saying she didn’t want to revert to processes that may limit local businesses.

“We’re going to have to wear our masks and keep our numbers low; it’s important,” Catron said.

On Thursday, July 9, Catron said she was aware that Northeastern Health System was included on a chart titled, "Oklahoma ICU Availability Below 10 Percent." That chart indicates NHS is at 100 percent occupancy.

“I reached out to [NHS CEO] Brian Woodliff for confirmation. In his response, he indicates that there are five open ICU spaces today,” Catron said Thursday.

As of July 10, Cherokee Nation Health Services had reported 285 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Most of those are not in Cherokee County, and many may be members of other tribes.

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