Mayor John Browne thinks it’s time for McAlester city councilors to have another conversation regarding COVID-19.
Both the Norman and Stillwater city councils passed measures this week to require the wearing of face masks or other protective facial barriers in public.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced Friday the process for a mandatory mask ordinance for the state’s second largest city is underway and is to be presented to Tulsa’s city council next week.
Browne wants McAlester city councilors to be ready if it becomes necessary for them to consider a similar measure.
That’s why he set a discussion and update for the July 14 city council meeting, regarding the effects of COVID-19 on the city of McAlester.
Browne said there are no plans at this time to ask for a vote to require everyone going out in public in McAlester to wear a face mask or some other type of protective facial barrier — but he didn’t rule out the possibility of that happening in the future if health experts maintain the situation requires it.
Since the matter is set for discussion only, the mayor isn’t calling for a vote on any COVID-19-related issues during the meeting, set for 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Still, what’s learned Tuesday night could lead to action at a future meeting.
“I put it on there because clearly the number of cases is going up,” Browne said.
“I want discussion, “ he said. “I want all the council to be aware, with information from experts.”
Browne’s invited representatives from the Pittsburg County Health Department and the McAlester Regional Health Center to participate in the Tuesday meeting.
“I invited somebody from the hospital to tell us how they prepared before” and what they’re doing now, Browne said.
Since both the city of McAlester and the state of Oklahoma ended the shutdown of all but what has been designated as essential businesses, the number of cumulative new COVID-19 cases has shot upwards statewide.
Cases have also increased in Pittsburg County — though not as much as in some other parts of the state.
On Friday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health showed 19,092 cumulative cases of COVID-19 statewide, with 416 total deaths.
In Pittsburg County, a total of 71 confirmed cumulative COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, with three total deaths.
“We can monitor how it progresses and egresses to determine whether we need to act,” Browne said.
Only a handful of city officials have attended the city council meetings in-person since emergency rules went into effect allowing public officials to participate by phoning in during public meetings. Typically, Mayor Browne, Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith, City Manager Pete Stasiak and City Clerk Cora Middleton attend in-person.
Ward 3 Councilor Cully Stevens, Ward 3 Councilor Steve Cox, Ward 4 Councilor James Brown and Ward 6 Councilor Zach Prichard have opted to participate by phone. Former Ward 5 Councilor Maureen Harrison also participated in-person, but her time in office has ended, with newly-elected City Councilor Billy Jack Boatright set to fill the Ward 5 post.
Browne’s hopeful the Tuesday night meeting gives city councilors the information they need — in case the issue of requiring the wearing of facial masks in public does come up in the future.
The mayor personally supports the wearing of protective masks, but he’s not pushing the council to vote Tuesday night to require it. Things could change — or not — after councilors hear from the health professionals.
“I don’t want people to make a decision without all the information available,” Browne said.
“There are so many unknowns, I want us to know the ‘knowns.’”
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.