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Tulsa Council Takes No Action On Proposed New Mask Requirement In Special Meeting

Matt Trotter

The City of Tulsa will continue not to have a mask mandate until at least Aug. 25.

A special meeting Monday night to consider a proposal for those 4 years and older to wear masks in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 went without a vote after a procedural motion to call one failed to get the required two-thirds majority.

The five councilors agreeing to call a vote were Mykey Arthrell-Knezek, Lori Decter Wright, Vanessa Hall-Harper and Kara Joy McKee. The four opposed were Jeannie Cue, Connie Dodson, Jayme Fowler and Phil Lakin.

Lakin said he wanted more time for input from experts and from businesses that would be affected by a mask requirement that would run through November.

"I mean, that’s a long time from now if what some people say is actually true, where these spikes are very steep on the way up and very steep on the way down. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m going to rely on them as we continue to get more information," Lakin said.

The council could agree to alter the proposed ordinance and end it ahead of its Nov. 30 expiration date.

Fowler said he got a flurry of calls from constituents saying they don’t want a mask requirement.

"For so many people, it’s about choice and not having the heavy hand of government in their lives," Fowler said.

Monday night’s meeting counts as a first reading of the ordinance. Decter Wright said there will be a vote at the next regular meeting.

"We will be taking this policy up again on Aug. 25, and we will have that opportunity to review more data after our children have been in school nearly a week. And I hope then we have the courage to do the bare minimum to protect them," Decter Wright said.

The ordinance will still require a two-thirds majority on Aug. 25 if it is to take effect immediately.

Council Chair Hall-Harper chided some of her colleagues who questioned holding a special meeting with cases and hospitalizations rising but then ultimately opposed a vote, citing a need for additional input.

"If this is not an emergency, I don’t know what is. Our numbers … are worse than they were when we initiated the first mask ordinance, and it just doesn’t make sense," Hall-Harper said. "We’re talking about time, we’re talking about, 'Oh, well, we’re coming into a space that’s a super spreader.' That’s not going to change on the 25th. If anything, numbers will be worse."

Councilors did allow public comment at Monday night’s meeting, people spoke in favor of a mask mandate outnumbered those against it 12 to eight. Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Dunlap said she had to tell five kids Monday they had tested positive for COVID, breaking their excitement to return to school after a tough year of distance learning.

"And now finally – finally – they have a chance at a modicum of normalcy, but the grownups can’t do this simple thing; this minute, tiny thing; this minor inconvenience of wearing a mask. And so, now they face down that barrel of uncertainty yet again. It’s nothing short of shameful," Dunlap said.

Tulsa Public Schools Board member Jennettie Marshall asked councilors ahead of Monday’s procedural vote to pass the mask mandate.

"As a funeral director who stays in constant contact with my colleagues throughout the United States and I’m watching daily funeral services for young babies, young children – this is our opportunity to make a difference," Marshall said.

Marshall also noted COVID has killed at least five TPS employees and sent her adult son to intensive care.

Under state law, public schools cannot require masks. A city ordinance cannot supersede that ban. The Delta variant, which is driving the current spike in infections and hospitalizations, is causing severe illness in children at a much higher rate than previous forms of the coronavirus, and those younger than 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated.

Decter Wright said part of her hope is a citywide mask requirement will model the behavior for children, making it easier for them to follow an example and wear them consistently at school without requirements in place there.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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