Citizens both for and against facial masks spoke passionately during a special meeting of the Stilwell City Council on Monday night, Nov. 16 at 5 p.m.
About 45 people attended, and those who spoke seemed most concerned about individual rights, personal freedom, and in the case of restaurants, keeping their businesses from going under. Most wore masks, though some did not. Many acknowledged knowing people who had died from COVID-19, but still opposed restrictions.
After almost 1-1/2 hours of public comment and another hour of discussion among council members, the City Council adopted an ordinance reflecting mandates Gov. Kevin Stitt sent out Monday afternoon, which recommend wearing masks and social distancing, with restaurants and bars closing by 11 p.m. Penalties would be the same as the state's. The city ordinance expires Jan. 6. The city will provide masks to restaurants and businesses as needed, along with signage recommending masks.
Two people who spoke are COVID survivors: Dr. Jeff Jenkins and Landon Bunch.
“It cost me 30 days of productivity,” said Jenkins.
The state reports escalating numbers and no indication at this point that the numbers will decline, Jenkins said.
“The entire national health care system is at capacity. All ERs are full and there are no new staff of nurses to hire,” Jenkins said.
Those who inform Stitt are advising 100 percent social distancing and masking, he added.
“There are about 23,000 people in the county, so with statistics, about 4,000 will get it. Our community is at risk due to diabetes and other health issues,” said Jenkins. “Masks and social distancing are slowing the rate, and our only options. If everyone would stay a dozen feet apart, that would help."
Bunch caught it in August and almost died.
“I was one of those making fun of masks, but my experience was horrible,” said Bunch.
He was in the hospital 34 days, and three weeks of that in ICU.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through it. I’m for wearing a mask. I almost died, so I hope we agree to a six-week national mandate with a drive-thru for restaurants,’ said Bunch.
Joe Fletcher, owner of Okie Joe's, said his concern is losing his livelihood, as were all restaurant owners in attendance.
“We can debate science, but I’m stuck in the middle. Whether some of you wear a mask to work is not a problem; you still gt a paycheck, but for me, it is wrong to threaten citizens for not wearing. Our citizens will not tolerate it,” said Fletcher.
About 200 people a day come to his business, and if they are forced to wear masks, they will stop, he said.
“You know how people are; they have a long memory, and if they say they won’t be back, they won’t,” he said. “I’m not here to not save lives. We take every precaution; my employees wash hands all day, we put plexiglass in, we clean all the time, but my livelihood is at risk here."
He also challenged council members to vote what constituents want, rather than what they think.
“I couldn’t ask for a better community, but we can’t live in fear and walk in faith,” said Fletcher.
Another speaker, Grace Ferris, said this is not political issue, but a social and spiritual issue.
“Love your neighbor as yourself is an unselfish love for each other,” said Ferris.
She lost a friend to COVID, and now that friend has a daughter in the hospital, struggling to survive.
“Please pass this so we can curtail COVID like places that are wearing masks have done,” she said.
Kristen Dupuy has owned and operated Somethin’ Sweet for two months, and said she’d have to close her doors if a mask mandate was passed.
“I understand this is a real thing, but I know people who always wear a mask and still caught COVID,” said Dupuy.
Janice Clinton spoke for her rights. She said she has breathing issues and learned later that she was exempted from wearing a mask because of her health issue.
“We are Americans; we have our freedom. America is crumbling before our eyes and we need to make our own decisions about our bodies. I can’t believe our town is in this debate,” Clinton said.
Amy Helms, who owns Bill's Auto, also spoke about freedom.
“We choose not to wear a mask, and this is about taking away freedoms. For you to require our employees to wear a mask or customers will hurt us all,” said Helms.
After all the comments, Lane Kindle, city council member, summed up the reason for the council's addressing masking: “We don’t want another shutdown."