“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,” stated City Manager Norman McNickle. “In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm.”
The face mask rules were implemented by the city in light of Oklahoma’s gradual reopening strategy. Under this plan, personal care businesses such as hair salons had been allowed to reopen across the state starting on April 14. Meanwhile, restaurant dining rooms were allowed to open on May 1, provided that they adhered to strict social distancing and sanitation protocols.
The rules regarding the requiring of face masks for Stillwater businesses were part of an emergency proclamation released by Mayor Will Joyce on April 30. Less than a day after it came out, however, business owners started reporting that their employees were being threatened because of the face mask requirement. This resulted in the mayor releasing an amended version of the emergency proclamation, one that made it up to the businesses to decide whether or not to require masks. (Related: Face masks are effective at STOPPING the spread of the coronavirus through speaking, NIH study finds.)
In a series of tweets, Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said that he expected some kind of pushback to the rules. However, he did not think that there would be physical confrontations with store employees and threatening phone calls to city hall.
Joyce continued stating that face masks would still be required for store employees but are now just “strongly recommended” for customers.
“To the people who resort to threats and intimidation when asked to take a simple step to protect your community: shame on you. Our freedom as Americans comes with responsibilities, too,” the mayor added. “We must find common ground and work together to deal with the circumstances our society is facing. Whether or not we agree on the details, we have to find ways to cooperate in the task before us.”
In an official statement, McNickle pointed out that some of those who threatened violence were under the mistaken assumption that the rules violated the constitution.
“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,” wrote the City Manager. “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 also stated his disappointment that some people, while “exercising their believed rights,” would put other people 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,” McNickle added. “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.”
He then reaffirmed that businesses are “private property” under the law, where people do not have “unfettered right of entry.” As such, business owners still have the right to require their customers to wear face masks and other coverings before entering their premises.
“We cannot, in clear conscience, put our local business community in harm’s way, nor can the police be everywhere,” McNickle stated. “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.
“Wearing a face covering is an easy way to support the health of your community and speed our recovery from this pandemic. Please do so.”