An emergency declaration that took effect at midnight Friday has been amended after businesses reported their employees were being threatened with physical harm by members of the public who didn't want to wear face coverings.
Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce released the amended emergency proclamation just 16 hours after it was enacted, in response to concerns voiced by residents and the proprietors of businesses, according to a City of Stillwater release.
The changes make the wearing of face coverings in retail establishments optional rather than mandatory for customers, although it is still strongly recommended, employees are still required to wear them and the proclamation is extended to 11:59 p.m. May 31.
The emergency proclamation can be amended further as becomes necessary.
City Manager Norman McNickle issued a statement about the change and the controversy surrounding mandatory face coverings:
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“In that effort to ensure 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.
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.”
McNickle also expressed frustration with reports circulating on social media about police stopping and ticketing people for not wearing face coverings while out and about.
"It's drivel," he said. "No stops, no tickets, no anything. It's complete falsehood."
Police Chief Jeff Watts also addressed the rumors in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
“We, Stillwater Police Department, are not stopping motorists to ensure the driver is wearing or in possession of a face covering. We are not responding to complaints of citizens not wearing face coverings in businesses. We are not ticketing citizens for failing to wear a face covering in public,” Watts wrote.
The police department will continue to respond to complaints of gatherings with 10 or more people and will take action according to the guidelines outlined in the proclamation. All people who violate the provisions are subject to a fine of $500 each.
Watts explained that under the amended proclamation, people are encouraged to wear face coverings while visiting both essential and non-essential businesses, and are required to wear them while patronizing personal care businesses that require close contact.
People who enter a business and are uncomfortable with other patrons not wearing a face mask have the option of leaving the business or continuing to shop, he said. But business owners have the legal right to require their patrons to wear face coverings.
“If a business requires you to wear a face covering and you refuse to do so the business has the right to refuse you service and/or demand you leave their establishment,” Watts wrote. “If you refuse to do so, you could be cited and/or arrested for trespassing if the business call the police and requests to make a citizen’s arrest.”