TULSA — On the same day that Oklahoma’s governor announced he tested positive for COVID-19, the largest community within the Muscogee (Creek) reservation enacted a mask order to staunch further spread of the virus.
After more than two hours in committee consultation with public health officials, the Tulsa City Council voted 7-2 Wednesday night implement a face covering ordinance applicable to people older than age 18 when they are outside of the home or their private car. Two-thirds of the city is within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s recently reinstated reservation.
A face covering as defined in the ordinance includes cloth masks, bandanas, cloth towels, scarves, N95 surgical masks, KN95 masks or any other masks that would be used in a medical or surgical setting.
As adopted, the measure includes exemptions for children under 18, people who are eating or drinking in a restaurant; people in their private homes or in a car with other members of their household; settings where it is not practical to wear a mask, such as a dental appointment or while swimming; and individuals who fall under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations to not wear a mask, such as people with developmental or sensory issues.
There is not a specified fine for non-compliance. However, people who refuse to put on a mask when requested can be subject to trespassing or disturbing the peace charges.
Although there is not a statewide mask mandate, several other Oklahoma communities with sizeable Indigenous populations have already enacted municipal mask orders, including Stilwell and El Reno.
““This is not unprecedented in cities across America,” Mayor GT Bynum said. “Out of the 50 largest cities by population, 46 of them already have orders like this in place, either put in place by their local governments or by their state government.”
One of the other remaining holdouts, Oklahoma City, is scheduled to consider a mask mandate on Friday.
The ordinance was signed into law Thursday morning, taking effect immediately. It will end on either Nov. 30 with the expiration of Bynum’s civil emergency order or if the City Council takes action sooner to adjust its terms.
Tulsa’s ordinance was passed just hours after Oklahoma’s governor, Kevin Stitt, announced he tested positive for COVID-19.
Stitt, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the first governor in the country to test positive. Speaking to reporters via Zoom Wednesday morning, Stitt said he would not enact a mask requirement even with his positive diagnosis. The state’s COVID case count has increased by more than 7,500 since July 1.
“You can’t pick and choose what freedoms you want to give people,” he said. “Besides, how do you enforce it? What if someone’s mask falls below their noses? Or they’re not wearing an N-95?”