Stillwater officials take down public face mask requirement after reported threats of violence against workers

Coronavirus

STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Alleged violent threats from community members prompted Stillwater officials to retract a recent requirement that community members wear face masks in public establishments to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

A statement was issued on the city’s official Facebook page in which Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle announced that the requirement had been amended out of the emergency proclamation. He also gave a stiff rebuke of the community members who threatened violence, including one threat with a firearm, against local workers.

“The City of Stillwater has attempted to keep people safe by the simple requirement to wear a face covering to protect others. It is unfortunate and distressing that those who refuse and threaten violence are so self-absorbed as to not follow what is a simple show of respect and kindness to others,” McNickle said.

While residents are no longer required to wear a mask, they are strongly encouraged to wear one when in public establishments.

“In that effort to insure the safety of others, we now have to weigh the safety of store owners and employees to threats of violence. We cannot, in clear conscience, put our local business community in harm’s way, nor can the police be everywhere. Accordingly, we will now be asking our local stores and business to encourage, but not require, patrons to cover their faces. Of course, each business can choose to adopt a more stringent approach, and we ask everyone to respect and abide by such decisions,” McNickle said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended people wear face coverings in public.

City officials had issued an emergency proclamation that required residents to wear masks in businesses and other public establishments starting Friday, May 1.

City officials hoped the requirement would prevent the spread of COVID-19, but many community members did not like what they believed was an unconstitutional intrusion into their lives. But McNickle said in the statement that the requirement does not violate the law.

“Many of those with objections cite the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional, and under their theory, one cannot be forced to wear a mask. No law or court supports this view. In fact, a recent Federal lawsuit against Guthrie’s face covering order was fully dismissed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma,” he said.

City officials reconsidered the face mask requirement after community members started threatening local workers, McNickle said.

“In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse. In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of COVID-19,” McNickle said.

McNickle said the reactions of some community members is upsetting on multiple levels. He lamented the health hazard that he said those community members could be causing.

“It is further distressing that these people, while exercising their believed rights, put others at risk. As mentioned, there is clear medical evidence the face coverings prevent COVID-19 spread; they are recommended by both the CDC and the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The wearing of face coverings is little inconvenience to protect both the wearer and anyone with whom they have contact. And, an unprotected person who contracts the virus can infect their own loved ones and others,” McNickle said.

He also said that businesses have the right to enforce a mask policy.

“It is further well settled that a business is private property to which people do not have unfettered right of entry. Just as a business has the right to enforce ‘No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service,’ the business can require a face covering as a condition to entry,” he said.

Click here to read the entire statement.

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