Oklahoma city reverses face mask requirement amid threats of violence

Shoppers are now strongly recommended to wear face coverings.

May 3, 2020, 4:02 PM

An Oklahoma city has reversed an emergency proclamation requiring shoppers to wear face masks due to threats of violence.

Stillwater, located about 65 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, started to reopen businesses on Friday morning as part of the state's phased-opening program. That included salons, barber shops, restaurants, gyms, museums and movie theaters.

PHOTO: People shop at a kiosk at Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City.
People shop at a kiosk at Penn Square Mall as the mall reopens, May 1, 2020, in Oklahoma City.
Sue Ogrocki/AP

The city had required customers to wear masks in stores and restaurants. But the mayor quickly amended that policy on Friday afternoon after employees were "threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse" in the span of three hours, Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said in a statement. There was one threat of violence using a firearm, he added.

Those objecting to wearing face masks cited "the mistaken belief the requirement is unconstitutional," McNickle said. "No law or court supports this view."

The Centers for Disease Control and the Oklahoma State Department of Health recommend the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a Twitter post, Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce said the requirement to have patrons wear masks "seemed like the middle ground of dozens of different versions from around the country," but "it wasn't the right approach for Stillwater."

"I knew there would be some objections, but I did not expect physical confrontations with employees and threatening phone calls to city hall," he said. "I hate that our businesses and their employees had to deal with abuse today, and I apologize for putting them in that position."

The city decided to amend its requirement as it weighs "the safety of store owners and employees to threats of violence," McNickle said.

"We cannot, in clear conscience, put our local business community in harm’s way, nor can the police be everywhere," he said. "Accordingly, we will now be asking our local stores and business to encourage, but not require, patrons to cover their faces."

Joyce said face masks are still required for store employees and "strongly recommended" for everyone else when around others.

The proclamation ends on May 31.

Stillwater has had 22 confirmed COVID-19 cases and no deaths, according to the latest figures available from the Oklahoma Health Department. Overall, the state has had 3,972 confirmed cases and 238 deaths.

A small number of states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Hawaii, require residents to wear masks in certain settings. Massachusetts will require face coverings in public starting Wednesday. Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine rescinded a statewide order requiring face masks in stores; on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, he said it went "too far."

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