The Economic Recovery Task Force committee on Thursday, July 30, discussed several factors that could determine whether a mask mandate is ordered in the city.

Trae Ratliff, Ward 4 councilor and head of the ERTF team, said the panel discussed school reopenings; restaurants and bars; the recent rise in number in children with COVID-19; and mask mandates.

Ratliff said Cherokee Nation and Northeastern State University have both sent letters to the city of Tahlequah, requesting a mask mandate as soon as possible. The ERTF released a 10-question survey to get the public's input.

"We are collecting data to help us better determine how the community feels about the various details of a potential mask mandate," the survey said. "We realize this is a very polarized topic. The primary goal of the ERTF is to develop guidelines for safely reopening Tahlequah's economy."

As of July 29, 1,450 people had responded to the survey, and 49 percent believe a mandate of masks will slow the spread of the virus.

"Initially, I felt that the almost 1,500 responses were not enough. That's a little less than 10 percent of the city's population. However, in the meeting, I was corrected, and was told that was actually a very good response," said Ratliff.

According to the data, 43 percent say they would feel more comfortable shopping at local businesses if a mandate had been issued. Thirty percent said they would shop in other towns if no mandate is enacted, while 21 percent said there would be no change to their current shopping behavior.

If a mandate were issued, 58 percent said they would continue to wear masks in public, while 28 percent said they wouldn't wear masks.

Ratliff said the data doesn't influence his decision on the matter, but there are other considerations taken into account.

"The intent of the survey is to let folks know how their friends and neighbors feel about the mask issue," he said. "We hear plenty from the loud ones on each side, but hear very little from the majority. This was an anonymous way to allow everyone to collectively have a voice."

According to the data, 18 percent of those who participated in the survey were business owners in Tahlequah.

Seventy-nine percent claimed to be citizens of Tahlequah or Cherokee County, and 2 percent were neither.

Discussion and possible action regarding a citywide face mask and/or mouth covering mandate is slated to happen during the Aug. 3 Tahlequah City Council meeting.

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