Stillwater’s leaders are trying to get the community to support wearing masks in public as a way to protect their neighbors and keep businesses open.

Mayor Will Joyce told his fellow city councilors Monday that he hopes to get community buy-in and avoid having to issue a mandate because of the animosity it generates, but it may become necessary.

“People need to make the right choices,” Joyce said.

In addition to people within the city government, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and local nonprofits are spreading the message and supporting the wearing of masks.

Joyce said he hopes enough people will voluntarily choose to take action to slow the transmission of COVID-19 before stricter mandates are required. 

The councilors attributed the increase in cases to having more people in town, opening the community up and increased testing.

The Payne County Health Department administered 400 tests Friday at a drive-through clinic held at the Payne County Expo Center, Joyce said.

Joyce, Vice-mayor Pat Darlington and Councilor Amy Dzialowski all expressed frustration with a lack of consistent messaging that starts at the federal and state levels. Not having a consistent flow of information about the number of people being treated and the places where people are being exposed also makes it hard for city leaders to make decisions, they agreed.

City Manager Norman McNickle told the council he is relying on the city’s partners in health care and at the Oklahoma State Department of Health who understand laws governing patient confidentiality better than he does. He doesn’t want to lose access to that information by revealing something he shouldn’t make publicly available.

Darlington said she would hope city leaders can build solid working relationships with other levels of government, entities like Oklahoma State University, and other city governments that would enable them to apply upward pressure to state and federal officials instead of waiting for information and leadership to flow down from them.

As Stillwater looks at the increase in confirmed cases and tries to avoid taxing its health care system, the decisions each individual makes to take care of their neighbors and the community as a whole are crucial, Joyce said.

Keeping people out of the hospital doesn’t just help patients with COVID-19, it also helps the people with other medical conditions or who are in need of elective surgeries and might have to put off accessing care for their conditions, Dzialowski noted. It happened before during the shutdown.

And it's not just a health issue, it’s an economic issue, she said. The hospital is a major employer in the community. She knows of businesses whose operations were affected by a lack of employees.

Wearing masks helps ensure employees stay healthy and able to work, so businesses can stay open.

Joyce said, if necessary, he is willing to put a mask requirement in place as the first step to slowing the spread. But he doesn’t want the city government to be alone in that action. It will take support from businesses that require their customers to wear masks and from members of the community.

“We have to have people come along beside us,” he said. “… Mandates and closures alone won’t address the issue.”

The council did not indicate a mask requirement was in the immediate future but city leaders are monitoring the situation at Stillwater Medical closely and are prepared to take action if the hospital sees a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Wear a mask, please,” Joyce said. “Take care of your neighbor, take care of your community, do the right thing.”

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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