The Norman City Council voted in favor of an ordinance that will require the wearing of face coverings in public in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 during a virtual city council meeting Tuesday evening.
According to the ordinance, face coverings will be required in public places when following social distance guidelines of six feet is not possible, including places that offer goods and services for purchase or rent and areas where employees will come in close contact with the public. Businesses will be required to display signage that says visitors must wear face coverings to enter the premises.
The ordinance passed with an 8-to-1 majority with councilmember Bill Scanlon as the lone dissenter. While he voted against the ordinance, Scanlon said he is not against face coverings, but rather the feasibility of enforcement. Additionally, he said he respected his colleagues’ decision.
“I respect the integrity of my colleagues in this vote and I find them to be honest in the discussions and the conclusions that they reach,” Scanlon said. “I've stated my objection and it's more philosophical, relating to enforcement than anything else. But the idea of masks is a good thing.”
Acceptable face coverings include cloth face masks, bandanas, towels, scarves and any sort of covering that fully covers the nose and mouth. Face coverings should fit snugly, but allow the person to breathe.
Those identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are unable to wear a cloth face covering as it could exacerbate a mental or physical health condition, lead to a medical injury or introduce serious safety concerns are exempt from the ordinance. Additionally, children younger than 6 years old will not be required to wear face coverings in public.
Face coverings will not be required when eating or drinking at a restaurant or bar, exercising when social distance can be maintained or receiving dental or medical treatment where wearing a face covering is not feasible.
According to Norman City Attorney Kathryn Walker’s comments from the meeting, the council is more interested in compliance than ticketing citizens.
Penalties for citizen noncompliance will be based primarily on citizen or business complaints. Businesses that willingly do not display signage or do not follow social distancing requirements can face penalties from $50 to $500.
Councilmember Kate Bierman said in an interview with The Daily she hopes her constituents will comply with the ordinance.
“My hope is that a majority of people will recognize the importance of doing this and will abide by the signage that businesses will put up,” Bierman said. “And my hope is that we won't need to enforce this very much, because my hope is that Norman residents will understand the utility of doing this for a short period of time so that we're not doing this for longer.”
The ordinance also requires restaurants and bars — where wearing a mask is not possible — to comply with social distancing guidelines by closing standing-only areas and limiting capacity.
The emergency clause of the ordinance declares it will be enacted in full effect immediately. However, the council recognized that certain elements of the clause — such as providing masks and signage for businesses — may take longer to execute. Therefore, the enforcement of the ordinance will be gradual.
An amendment was passed striking the line that would require bars and bar areas to close at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends after councilmembers voiced concerns about the potential harm it could cause businesses.
Councilmember Stephen Holman proposed the amendment in response to concerns from his constituents.
“I've heard from a few bar owners and some bartenders that are kind of struggling right now, and that time period between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. for some really popular bars is a really big deal,” Holman said. “I would just want us all to take that into consideration before we make a final decision.”
“The whole idea here was to try to keep as many businesses open as we can,” councilmember Alison Petrone said. “And I'm afraid that if we were to go to those hours — especially when their volume is reduced so much in the summer already, and we're going to be limiting capacity here — this may just be enough to be able to keep them open.”
Two additional amendments were passed on the original ordinance. One amendment will require face coverage when in-person contact is made at the door or window — such as drive-thrus — and residential or commercial settings — such as encounters with door-to-door salespeople. Another amendment will allow the use of a face shield to accommodate ADA exemptions.
Medical professionals joined the meeting as consultants for the ordinance. Dr. Kathryn Cook, pediatric hospitalist for Norman Regional Health, said the ordinance was important to the opening of the city.
"We want to be able to safely reopen schools, we want the economy to recover,” Cook said. “We want businesses to do well. We want football season. Masks and physical distancing and hand hygiene give us a fighting chance at all of that. We have had an opportunity to voluntarily make these decisions, but compliance has not been good enough to see the difference that we were hoping for as we begin to open the community.”
Gary Raskob, College of Public Health dean and regents professor, said the ordinance was a timely issue.
“Our goal is not to wait until the hospitals are at full capacity before we act,” Raskob said. “That would be a problem. What we're trying to do is prevent the increasing spread of the disease from overtaking the capacity of the healthcare system to deal with people who are very sick. And that's the critical point.”
The virtual session was conducted over Zoom and streamed on YouTube live. Residents were able to submit comments via email or on the YouTube chat window. Residents were also able to join the call at Norman City Hall to make comments.
Residents expressed concerns regarding enforcement of the ordinance and the potential burden it could place on the police department.
“I would hate to see them get bombarded with calls for people not wearing masks,” OU law student Sean McKenna said. “One of my suggestions would be on our proposed signs that we're going to give to the businesses, is to maybe have some language or create some other call center or some other ways that they can notify maybe the Action Center or something else. So we're not overwhelming our emergency services, where they can't answer a phone call.”
Mayor Breea Clark said she had been in contact with the city’s IT department regarding this concern.
Other citizens expressed concerns regarding the enforcement of social distance regulations at parties as OU students return to Norman.
“Will we be able to monitor private parties across Norman if bars are closed?” OU alumna Holly Gray said in an email. “College kids will just go elsewhere to socialize. Isn't it better for us to be able to manage capacity at our bars and restaurants then for them to just congregate at homes and apartments?”
The ordinance will expire Nov. 30, at the expiration of COVID-19 related emergency issues by Clark or at the repeal or modification from the city council. After discussion, the council proposed revisiting the issue in a public meeting in August to discern whether the ordinance should remain.
Bierman voted in favor of the ordinance and said she hopes the ordinance will positively impact the Norman community.
“I really just hope that Norman residents recognize that wearing a mask isn't just about keeping themselves safe,” Bierman said in the interview. “It's about keeping our vulnerable residents safe. They should not be required to stay home just because we can't make the simple and compassionate gesture of wearing a mask.”