The Norman City Council repealed its mask mandate Tuesday night during its special session with the guidance of OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler, who also spoke on the “substantial changes” the university hopes to make to phase back OU’s masking policy.
Mayor Breea Clark said the decision was made in light of recently released CDC guidelines saying fully vaccinated individuals no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. The council repealed the mandate with a unanimous vote while encouraging people to get vaccinated.
“What I would like to emphasize to everyone watching, and to everyone who’s not watching — you need to get vaccinated, and if you choose not to, please continue to wear a mask,” Clark said. “If you see someone wearing a mask, there will be no mask shaming because, as we have covered, even vaccinated, there are people who are immunocompromised that do not have as high efficacy rate as everyone else. So, please let us respect each other's choices and individualism and get vaccinated.”
Norman City Attorney Kathryn Walker said the masking ordinance was originally passed in July 2020, requiring face coverings in public places when social distancing is not possible and places that offer goods and services for purchase or rent and areas where employees came in close contact with the public. It also required businesses to display signage saying visitors must wear face coverings to enter.
The council encouraged the mandate in a June 2020 special session amid a rise in COVID-19 cases, making Norman one of the first cities in Oklahoma to enact a masking policy during the pandemic.
Walker said although the council moved back the June 1 sunset date by repealing the mandate, the city will still maintain its state of emergency to ensure adolescents, ages 12 to 15, have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. She said masking requirements will remain in federal transportation, hospitals and private businesses that choose to maintain their independent masking policies.
The remaining state of emergency will also allow the mayor to update city ordinances if the need for masking returns amid increased COVID-19 cases, Walker said.
“It could be adopted again later if it had to be, but at this time, with the direction the CDC and the low numbers that we're seeing, it seems like an appropriate time to consider repealing it right now as adopted,” Walker said.
Cleveland County currently has a daily case average of six cases per 100,000 people and, as of May 17, the university has conducted no tests and has only five students and one staff member in isolation, according to the COVID-19 dashboard.
Bratlzer, who Clark said has served as a partner in guiding the City of Norman during the pandemic, said the university delayed its announcement regarding changes to its mitigation policies leading up to this special session. Now that this mandate is repealed, he said the university will make changes to its current masking policy “in the near future."
On June 1, the university will require students, faculty and staff who have patient-facing responsibilities, those who request to volunteer, shadow or observe inpatient care settings and all who choose to participate in study abroad programs to be vaccinated, according to a May 12 university email. Bratzler said the university will soon remove its masking policy and strongly recommend masks for anybody who is not vaccinated.
“For the Norman campus, in particular, we will be eliminating the mask requirement for anybody,” Bratlzer said. “We’ll be strongly recommending it for fully vaccinated, but it will be on the honors system for people to wear their mask.”
Bratzler said he is encouraged by the lower rates of the virus and higher vaccination rates in Oklahoma, with a rate of three cases per 100,000 per day and 32 percent of individuals are vaccinated. He said, as the fall semester approaches, he hopes to capture students' vaccination rate on move-in day and encourage those who are not vaccinated to get their shot.
“As a college student has to declare whether they've had the meningococcal vaccine or MMR or some of the other vaccines, we're going to try to capture that when they come back to campus,” Bratzler said. “We will be offering a vaccine clinic on moving day on campus, so we're going to do everything we possibly can to encourage students to be vaccinated.”
Ward 1 Councilmember Brandi Studley, representing Ward 1 for the first time, said the key to keeping numbers down in both the city and university is following the science and keeping track of case numbers.
“As long as we're watching the numbers, and Mayor Clark is paying attention, like I know she always is, I am reassured that, if anything, that we see a spike in numbers that she'll definitely try to reinstate this mandate with the help of council,” Studley said. “So just know, we are watching, we are aware of your concerns, but we're also following the science.”