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City of Ardmore passes mask mandate for all indoor public spaces

Drew Butler
dbutler@gannett.com
Mercy Hospital Ardmore President Daryle Voss speaks to the Ardmore City Commission Thursday, Nov 12, 2020, in support of a mask mandate. Voss said local hospital resources are being stretched thin as the pandemic worsens in Carter County.
Oklahoma State Department of Health Regional Director Mendy Spohn speaks to the Ardmore City Commission Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. She said municipalities with mask mandates have slowed the spread of COVID-19.

The Ardmore City Commission unanimously passed a mask mandate during a special meeting held Thursday afternoon. The resolution aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It requires face coverings or masks to be worn at all indoor public spaces and applies to people ages five and older. The mandate does not require face coverings to be worn outdoors and will remain in effect until the commission votes to rescind the resolution.

Prior to the vote, City Manager JD Spohn said the mandate came after requests from local employers and medical professionals who are concerned about the rising number of cases and have asked for assistance from the city to prevent the spread.

“We’ve talked to our attorneys, and we tried to come up with something that was simple and easy to understand but with enforceable elements,” Spohn said. “What we’re asking our business community to do — or restaurants and our retailers — is to work with the city to enforce this in your place of business. If people do not comply with wearing a mask and refuse to leave, then the police department will step in and assist them with that.”

Several citizens also spoke prior to the vote. Three were in favor of the measure and one was against.

Daryle Voss, president of Mercy Ardmore, said the hospital is becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the amount of COVID patients they are treating. He said the number of COVID patients who are inpatients at the hospital is typically around 10% of all active cases in the county. Whereas a month ago they had around 10 or 12 hospitalized COVID patients, that number is now closer to 20.

He said he knows from experience that masks help prevent the spread of the virus because hospital workers always wear masks on their shifts.

“I see my team every day, and I know that masks work,” Voss said. “If they didn’t, all our caregivers would be down with COVID.”

Mendy Spohn, regional director for the Oklahoma Department of Health, also spoke in favor of the mandate. She said Carter County had 205 active infections of the virus and 12 deaths as of Wednesday, and she said around 80% of both cases and deaths are listed as Ardmore or have an Ardmore residence. The county's 13th death was reported Thursday.

She also directed everyone to the weekly epidemiology and surveillance report provided by the state health department which shows masks make a difference in the number of COVID cases.

“In that report is an updated listing of mask mandates from cities in Oklahoma that have them and cities that don’t,” she said. “You can definitely see the leveling — it’s not 100%, nothing is — but it definitely shows the difference between cities that do have them and cities that don’t.”

A citizen who gave his name as Mr. Wells spoke up against the measure.

“I’m a licensed funeral director and embalmer,” Wells said. “I’ve been exposed to every communicable disease there is most likely. I’ve compared the death totals of the world for 2019 to 2020 at its current time and I see no increase. If you calculate how many more could possibly die, it’s not there. I’m not going for it."

The Center for Disease Control reported in October that from January 26, 2020, through October 3, 2020, an estimated 299,028 more persons than expected died in the United States, otherwise known as excess deaths — based off of preliminary data — with two thirds of all excess deaths reported during the analysis period being attributed to COVID-19 and the remaining third to other causes.

Mita Bates, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in favor of the mask mandate. She said she believes the mandate will help keep the economy of the city open and help keep the number of employees absent from their jobs down because of COVID-related issues such as illness, quarantine, or lack of childcare because some area schools are beginning to move to distance learning.

“Our goal is to keep the economy open,” Bates said. “We need to take some common-sense steps to allow that to happen and I think this is a great step towards keeping our economy open.”