OKC City Council mask ordinance
A woman opposed to a proposed mask ordinance speaks Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, during an OKC City Council meeting. (Matt Patterson)

(Correction: This article was updated at 4:20 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31, to correct reference to the votes of councilmembers. This article was updated at 9:19 p.m. Tuesday, August 31, to correct an error in reference to attorneys fees in a recent court ruling. NonDoc regrets the errors.)

The OKC City Council voted down a proposed mask ordinance and a resolution that would have dedicated surplus CARES Act funding to promote vaccines in the community during a contentious and often bizarre meeting today.

Because Councilman James Cooper’s proposed mask ordinance would have required the City Council to declare an emergency situation for an abrupt change in the law, seven members would have needed to support the effort to implement an ordinance through September. Cooper attempted to amend his proposal to run through October, thus avoiding the emergency requirement, but the amendment vote failed 3-6, with Mayor David Holt and councilmembers Todd Stone, Mark Stonecipher, David Greenwell, Bradley Carter and Barbara Young voting “No.” Councilmembers JoBeth Hamon, James Cooper and Nikki Nice voted in favor.

When the final vote on the ordinance occurred, Holt voted in favor for a 4-5 tally. Had the ordinance passed 5-4, then seven councilmembers would have needed to approve the emergency declaration for implementation.

Oklahoma City established a mask ordinance last year as coronavirus cases swelled, but it expired April 30.

Carter attributes rising hospitalizations to fear

Oklahoma City-County Health Department chief operating officer Phil Maytubby told the council that, over the previous seven days, the county has recorded 2,873 new positive cases and 10 deaths. In that time, an additional 383 people have been hospitalized.

A tense exchange between Maytubby and Carter ensued. First elected to northwest OKC’s Ward 1 in April, Carter quizzed Maytubby on his credentials. Maytubby is a biologist who has worked in the public health sector for 33 years. He is also a member of several national public health boards.

Carter, who operates a coffee shop in Oklahoma City, asked Maytubby if rising hospitalizations might be caused by something else.

“Do you attribute the fear that we’ve been pushing on this virus to the rise in hospital attendance?” Carter asked Maytubby.

Maytubby responded: “Fear? No. People go when they are ill.”

Carter then compared the novel coronavirus to the flu.

“We don’t tell anyone to go when it’s the flu,” Carter said. “We don’t have that issue. Now you can’t turn on the TV or radio without being told to go to the hospital.”

Carter also questioned the effectiveness of testing for the coronavirus, noting the CDC plans to phase out PCR tests at the end of the year because he said the agency knows they are not effective.

PCR tests approved under emergency use authorization at the beginning of the pandemic will be phased out at the end of the year. But according to Reuters, that’s because new tests have been developed, not because the old tests don’t work.

“This is not due to the tests failing or confusing SARS-CoV-2 with influenza, however, but in order to transition toward using a test that can facilitate the diagnosis of both viruses,” according to Reuters.

Speakers oppose mandate

A number of OKC residents signed up to advocate against the proposed mask ordinance. They included a woman who identified herself as Laurie (or potentially Lori) Tuttle, who compared mask ordinances to the three years she lived in Belarus under a dictator.

“In order for tyranny to take place, the citizens must be kept under fear,” she said. “In my lifetime, I’ve heard the fear tactics from the authoritarians in our government scaring us about the coming ice age. Global warming. Both have been completely disproved, but you’ll never hear that from our politicians. The new one is COVID-19, which even the CDC says has a greater than 90 percent recovery rate. And yet, we’re all supposed to conform to their idea of safety for the common good.”

A woman who identified herself as Paula Strowbridge said masks are not effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

“Sizes of the pores of an N95 can stop particles up to 300 nanoparticles, which is 2.4 times the size of the virus,” she said. “Therefore, it shows that masks are ineffective at stopping the virus.”

While some masks are less effective than others, N95 masks, the kind worn by health care workers caring for coronavirus patients, and by some members of the public, are effective in protecting the wearer, according to a fact check by USA Today published last year.

A man who identified himself as Todd Nelson told the council that the coronavirus is like the flu and that masks represent government overreach.

“Being forced to wear a mask is medical tyranny in light of the survival rate attached to the ‘COVID-flu,'” he said. “We are over the propaganda. It is evil, deceitful and is wrong to tell people their existence and breathing is murder. We will not be made criminals for bowing a knee to a proposed mandate. We are not a communist nation. This board doesn’t have the authority by God or this land. Your rights to my body don’t exist.”

Larry Holm invoked Jesus Christ during his remarks opposing the mask mandate.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way to the truth and the light’,” Holm told the council. “He described Satan as a murderer from the beginning and the father of lies. Today, we are swimming in a sea of lies: Masks protect you. Inoculations and boosters are as safe as those in the past. All lies. It’s a manufactured virus that is highly contagious and causing unique symptoms, but if caught early it is treatable.”

Speaker compares mask mandate to Jim Crow

After one white speaker compared mask mandates to Jim Crow laws in the south, Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice, who is Black, used her time before the vote to address the remarks.

Someone wants to talk about Jim Crow laws?” she said. “In comparison to a vaccine or the suggestion of a face covering in your community? Get real. Jim Crow laws have nothing to do with the vaccine or a face covering. Jim Crow laws were because of the color of someone’s skin. They are of no comparison to what we are talking about today. I refuse to accept that conversation in anything that we’re talking about because, me personally, when I walk outside this door, you don’t give a damn about whether I’m wearing a face covering. It’s the color of my skin that you’re looking at before you look at that.”

At that point, some in the crowd began to jeer Nice. Holt banged his gavel and asked for Oklahoma City police officers to come to the front of the chamber. A man in the front row who opposed the ordinance stood up and appeared to identify himself as a police officer. Holt had to ask the man several times whether he would allow the meeting to continue. Eventually, the man sat back down.

“These are my truths,” Nice said. “You’ve spoken yours. Again, you don’t live in my skin.”

Some favor mandate

While those against the proposed mask ordinance were the loudest in the room, several people spoke in favor. A man who identified himself as Jim Bragg said residents in the city have let their health care workers down.

Today, I feel a great sense of appreciation for those dealing with the COVID epidemic in our hospitals,” he said. “I want to express a sense of appreciation for all of those health care workers and certainly our apologies to those who are infected with the COVID virus, because as citizens of Oklahoma City I feel like we’ve let them down and we bare some responsibility for where they are. I know that masks aren’t perfect, but they can reduce the spread of this virus. I wear a mask because I care about those around me.”

A man who identified himself as Nick Brooke said the city and state are running out of time if Oklahoma does not want to resemble Florida where refrigerated trucks are now being used to store the dead because morgues have reached capacity.

“This is a leadership test, and you leaders are failing it,” Brooke said. “There is a right answer here. There were 19,500 people sick last week, and there will be more people sick next week, and the week after that. Some of them will go to the hospital. The hospitals are already full. Mask mandates work, and we are running out of time. In Florida, they’re running out of medical oxygen already. I don’t know how bad it’s going to get here, but it’s going to get worse until we do something to stop it.”

A woman who identified herself as Louise Brooke also said mask mandates work and that they’re worth the effort.

At this point in the pandemic, we know that mask mandates work,” she said. “We’re not here to debate those things. We’re here to debate if human lives have worth. Is it worth the time and energy to make sure people don’t die?”

Judge rules against OKC

Last week, a federal judge ruled that the City of Oklahoma City will be required to pay more than $1 million in legal fees to attorneys that fought OKC’s panhandling ordinance in court.

Oklahoma City adopted an ordinance banning solicitations from street medians in 2015, but it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court last year.

ACLU of Oklahoma attorney Megan Lambert praised the most recent court decision.

“We hope this fee amount will deter Oklahoma City from violating the constitutional rights of Oklahomans and encourage them to consider the concerns of the community in the future,” Lambert said in a statement.