A Northeastern State University student has launched a petition to roll back a campuswide mandate for facial coverings.

Following an influx in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S., NSU issued a mandate requiring faculty, staff, students, contractors, volunteers and visitors on all campuses to wear masks or approved coverings for their noses and mouths. The mask is required when in enclosed public spaces or in outdoor areas where social distancing cannot be easily mandated.

Some students, however, believe this regulation is treading on their freedom. That sentiment is echoed by some in Tahlequah, where the City Council Monday night imposed its own mandate.

Leslie McKinley, an NSU student, began a petition at Change.org to end the mask mandate altogether.

"I was inspired to create this petition by the mask mandate itself and our human right to liberty," said McKinley. "When I saw that NSU and Tahlequah were mandating that we wear face masks, I immediately knew I had to do something. We shouldn't be forced to do something based on controversial medical information. I had recently heard of the previous petition to mandate masks at NSU, so I thought I could make my own petition, and here we are."

In the description of the petition, McKinley states: "We believe this mandate to be not only in opposition to liberty but also unsupported by factual data, therefore rendering it untrustworthy and unnecessary." She goes on to say she believes too much of the data being collected on the use of masks is contradictory among those releasing the data, as well as some doctors.

Statistically, the vast majority of medical professionals across the globe agree wearing facial coverings could help mitigate the spread of the virus, although there are pockets of naysayers.

McKinley doesn't see things that way.

"The mandate itself is not backed by factual data due to the fact that the medical information being released on the issue has thus far been contradictory and conflicting," said McKinley. "Medical professionals around the world are producing different conclusions on the matter."

She argues that more testing needs to be conducted before a mandate is put in place. She also claims there's been much contention in the medical field on what type of mask should be worn, or whether a mask should be worn at all.

"Some have stated cloth masks are the most effective, whereas some have stated that they aren't effective at all," said McKinley. "Some have stated that masks are what keeps us healthy whereas some are stating that masks can cause more health problems than what they solve. Some are stating that masks are only helpful in certain situations among certain people. This is an issue that needs more effectual testing before a decision such as mandating an entire town or college wear one."

Masks have been a controversial topic over the past few months, mostly in the United States.

Some insist that being forced to wear masks strips away basic rights, while others refuse to wear them for more personal, underlying issues, such as trauma. Others claim it is too hard to breathe with a mask on.

In a study by the Pew Research Center, however, 65 percent of Americans said they wear masks all the time when shopping or entering other businesses. Another 15 percent say they wear them some of the time.

No reputable poll conducted in the U.S. shows widespread opposition to masks, and informal surveys indicate nearly 80 percent of Tahlequah residents favored a facial covering ordinance, as long as exceptions are in place.

McKinley said that even if the mask mandate remains, she does not plan on wearing one.

"I plan on continuing to peacefully fight and petition for my right, and the rights of others, to decide what we do with our own bodies based on a more informed medical field," she said.

She did not specify what "medical field" she was looking to for data.

McKinley said she still intends to take many other precautions to stop the spread of germs, such as washing her hands and social distancing. She also said she intends to keep up to date on what "trustworthy medical professionals" have to say on the matter, and that she intends to "pray for the world" and all of those who have been affected by the coronavirus.

NSU declined to comment on the matter, as it did for a previous attempt at petitioning against masks.

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