McAlester City Hall

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McAlester city councilors unanimously voted Tuesday to immediately end the city's mask mandate.

The public health ordinance required a mask or other protective facial covering be worn in public settings, where social distancing of at least six feet between individuals was not being conducted.

McAlester Mayor John Browne set up the mask mandate to automatically come before the city council during the second meeting of every month.

However, Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard added it to the agenda for the April 13 meeting, the first April meeting, not wanting to wait until the April 27 meeting for it to come up again.

Prichard has been a strong advocate of the mask mandate requirement, but he told the News-Capital in a conversation prior to the Tuesday night meeting the time has come to remove it.

"Now that these vaccines are rolling out, I don't think we need a mask-mandating ordinance," Prichard said. He said with the messaging around the COVID-19 vaccinations, the city should be encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.

A reason for not wearing a mask could be because an individual has been vaccinated, he said. Those already vaccinated for COVID-19 may feel they no longer need to wear a mask, so Prichard questioned keeping the city's mask mandate in place under those conditions.

If the city's going to require those who have already been vaccinated to continue wearing a mask, some may wonder what's the use of getting a vaccination, he said.

"I don't want our mask mandate to be a disincentive to get vaccinated," said Prichard.

Mayor Browne also said prior to the meeting he supported dropping the mandate.

"I'm going to vote to let it go," said Browne. "The reason I'm doing it is the shots are available," he said, referring to the current availability of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The item was listed on the council agenda as discussion and possible action on Ordinance 2704, which amended Chapter 54 of the Health and Public Welfare section of the City Code.

While the city's mask mandate provided no penalty for individuals not wearing a protective facial covering, it allowed for places of public accommodation, educational institutions or places of indoor public settings failing to comply with the ordinance to face a fine of up to $100, along with regulatory discipline and/or civil action.

During the city council's Jan. 26 meeting, city councilors had taken no action on mask mandate, allowing it to remain in place. They also took no action on the matter during the council's Feb. 23 meeting, when Browne said the mask mandate was helping make progress and he saw no reason to make a change.

During the March 23 meeting, a motion by Ward 3 Councilor Steve Cox to the change the city's mask mandate to a recommendation failed with a 3-to-3 tied vote.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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