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County Health Director's Call For More Municipal Mask Mandates Not Likely To Get Unanimous Buy-In

Chris Polansky

One day after Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, called for all municipalities in Tulsa County to introduce a mask mandate similar to the city of Tulsa's to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials in some of those cities and towns showed no indication they plan to take the guidance.

"We have discussed it, and the Bixby council is not willing to pass a mask mandate at this time," said Bixby Mayor Brian Guthrie. 

Asked whether the city council was consulting with public health officials or experts other than the Tulsa Health Department, which serves as the health department for the entirety of Tulsa County, Guthrie said they were not.

"We have access to the same information everybody else does, as far as case numbers, recovered, deaths, hospitalizations. All that's taken into consideration," Guthrie said of the council.

"Any kind of mask mandate in Jenks would have to be passed by our city council, and that is something that we do not have on our agenda right now for our next city council meeting," said Katie Butterfield, communications director for the city of Jenks. 

Butterfield said the city's COVID-19 response is primarily overseen by Jenks Fire Chief Greg Ostrum, who bases his recommendations to the city council on recommendations from Dart, the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and Dr. Jeffrey Goodloe, medical director for the Emergency Medical Services Authority, or EMSA. Butterfield said the council stands ready to add a mask mandate agenda item in the future should they decide it's necessary.

Speaking for the city of Sand Springs, Police Chief Mike Carter said their municipal government is looking for cues from the state on the issue of a mask ordinance.

"Our council has chosen to wait for guidance from the governor," Carter said. "I guess there has been back-and-forth whether this should or shouldn't be mandated, masks, and our council right now has left it at that if we see the numbers go up, and the state mandates more action, then we are going to rely on the governor's advice. If we saw numbers dramatically go up, then our council might take that issue back up locally. But so far the numbers haven't risen to the level that they've chosen to do that."

The city of Skiatook said they would be unable to provide comment.

The municipal governments of Broken Arrow, Collinsville, Glenpool, Owasso, and Sperry did not return requests for comment.

Dart on Thursday said that a unified front on mask mandates is crucial.

"Together, as a county, we can all do this," Dart said. "We need all of our municipalities here in Tulsa County in unison to agree to do this as well, to keep their communities safe, to make sure that we're all going in one direction when it comes to this response."

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has stressed numerous times throughout the pandemic that Tulsa hospitals serve the entire region, and that neighboring cities should take more action than they have. On Thursday, he took a swipe at other municipal governments in the Tulsa metro.

"[The Tulsa City Council] cast a very courageous vote -- to date, the only city council in Tulsa County to have the courage to do that," Bynum said of the passage of the city's mask ordinance.

Bynum said he thought some of the statewide measures Gov. Kevin Stitt instituted earlier on in the pandemic, with restrictions and regulations triggered on a county-by-county basis based on local data, were good policy, and that it may be time to revisit that approach regarding mandatory mask usage. 

"That could be an option if neighboring communities around here just won't do it," Bynum said. "That's another person who could, would be the governor through that kind of an action."

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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