The Broken Arrow City Council on Monday voted against passage of a resolution that would have strongly encouraged the use of masks and other measures to lower community transmission of COVID-19.
The vote failed 1-4, with only Councilor Johnnie Parks voting in favor.
"I just don't think this city would ever pass a mandate, but I would vote for it if these numbers keep going up," Parks said, referring to rising infection rates. "So the way I look at it, I'd like to see something happen to cause these numbers to go down."
Parks was heckled during some of his remarks, with Mayor Craig Thurmond having to call for order and telling attendees they would be removed if they continued to do so.
Councilor Christi Gillespie said she shared a concern expressed by a number of citizens during the meeting's public comment period, that the resolution would be wrongly interpreted as a mandate, a policy she opposes because she doubts the science behind the effectiveness of masks.
"We have been told so many facts, science, whatever you want to call it, and guess what? We all are going to believe the science we want to believe. I can Google something to justify anything I want to believe. That's just the way it is today," Gillespie said.
The Tulsa Health Department, Oklahoma State Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all concluded that masks help reduce transmission of COVID-19. THD and the CDC also recommend mandatory mask policies.
"At this point, we, all of us, we know what we believe," Gillespie said. "There is nothing anybody's going to say to any of us that's going to change our minds."
Mayor Thurmond assured citizens that he would not support a mask mandate and that the resolution was not a slippery slope toward one.
"I don't believe that a mask is really, a cloth covering over your face necessarily is going to solve your problem," Thurmond said. "I think that it takes everything. I think that you've got to have good hand hygiene. I think that you've got to have social distancing. But I think, also, you have to be responsible for your own immunity.
"So I do believe that you have to, I mean, I personally think that we take vitamins, we eat healthy, we try to exercise, those kinds of things. But as a city we're not going to mandate that. We're not going to mandate that you have to wear a mask. We're not going to mandate that you -- at least, personally, I don't agree with that -- and we're not going to mandate that, you know, you have to be healthy."
Thurmond voted against the resolution to strongly encourage the use of masks.
Vice Mayor Scott Eudey said he came into the meeting undecided, but eventually determined he opposed the resolution.
"What I've heard is those of you who oppose any sort of -- the city coming out and saying, you know, 'Please do what you can to stop the spread. Please be respectful of others,' which is what, generally, I thought this was, because many of you oppose that, and because everyone who wants a mask mandate is simply not going to be satisfied with me just reminding you to be good people to each other, I can't support it," Eudey said. "But I'm disappointed."
Councilor Debra Wimpee suggested the resolution was redundant because Broken Arrow "has always, for the most part, recommended and encouraged people to do the right thing through this."
"I went back and looked at all the times that I've posted on my social pages, and I've reached over 300,000 people since April. Those are stats, social stats, of times that I have recommended and encouraged people to stay safe and be careful and wear masks if they want, if they can, want to wear a mask or not," Wimpee said.
Despite the resolution's failure, the city's COVID-19 webpage says "Residents are encouraged to follow all CDC recommended safety measures to slow the spread of COVID-19: Wash your hands often, avoid close contact with others, wear a mask when around others, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect surfaces daily, and monitor your health daily."