Editor's Note: This story has been modified to correctly identify Frank Wallick, one of the speakers and correct a quote.
A steady stream of Perkins residents opposed to an ordinance requiring them to wear face coverings in public addressed the Perkins City Commission Wednesday. It’s not clear if their arguments or the volume of opposition changed anyone’s mind, but they got what they wanted; A majority of the commissioners voted to reject a mandate and instead opt for a recommendation.
The commissioners were considering an ordinance based on the language adopted by cities like Stillwater, Tulsa and Ada, at the request of Commissioner David Lara.
Lara said he loves freedom and has considered himself a free spirit his whole life. But he knows many people who are immunocompromised or at greater risk of becoming very ill from COVID-19 because they are undergoing cancer treatment or have some other condition.
People talk about their freedom but he’s walked into many businesses where people are not social distancing, he said. He believes that people should be free to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting other people.
Lara told the crowd that people worried about their risk of exposure have approached him to to ask, “What about my freedom?”
“What’s a life worth? Even if only a few?” he asked as he addressed arguments about infection and survival rates. “Freedom should be for everyone.”
He also expressed concern about the lasting health impact on even young people who survive COVID-19 infections
“Just because you didn’t die doesn’t mean you’re not going to have problems the rest of your life,” he said.
Stillwater Medical Infection Control Coordinator Necia Kimber urged the commissioners to adopt an ordinance, citing COVID-19’s potential long-term effects on the heart, blood vessels and lungs of survivors.
Lubbock, Texas, a city about three times the size of Stillwater, Perkins and Cushing combined is struggling to deal with its case load right now, Kimber said. Allowing cities in our area to get to that point could force a shutdown, something that would destroy local businesses.
Several business owners asked the commissioners to reject a mask mandate, saying it would hurt their businesses and drive away customers.
Mayor Jason Shilling told the News Press he has heard from several businesses that their sales are up, particularly among people from Stillwater.
Perkins resident Frank Wallick told the commission that if the ordinance were adopted, he would gladly drive to Cushing to buy groceries and eat out, just to celebrate his freedom.
“I will be damned before somebody tells me, on American soil, that I’ve got to cover my face to go out in public,” he said.
The Commissioners will encourage businesses to post signs asking people to wear masks and explaining CDC social distancing guidelines.
Shilling said it’s a tough position to be in because he feels responsible for the safety of 3,000 people and hasn’t seen his own father in about five months.
“It’s hard to know the right thing to do,” he said.
But he hopes the people in Perkins will take care of each other and do the right thing.