The Claremore City Council voted 5-2 Friday night to implement an ordinance that will require people 10 and older in public places to wear face masks properly and practice social distancing beginning Dec. 20.
The vote came as COVID-19 cases have reached record numbers in the city, and a lack of hospital beds in the area has led to some patients being transported out of state, a city official said.
The council didn't vote on an emergency clause that requires a 75% majority and could have put the ordinance into effect immediately. The council's next scheduled meeting is Dec. 7, and Mayor Bill Flanagan said it's possible there will be a vote on the emergency clause then.
Along with Flanagan, councilors Ken Hays, Dennis Grace, Will DeMier and Scott Savage voted for the ordinance. Councilors Brian Callender and Justin Michael voted against it. Councilors Jennifer Lewis and Herb McSpadden were not in attendance.
The council took public comment through email and voicemail until noon Friday. Five people also spoke at the meeting. There were 174 total responses, with 95 against a mask ordinance, 77 in favor and two who didn't express an opinion.
After the vote, about 10 people at the back of the room in the Claremore Community Center shouted angrily, saying they would remember it at election time and would take their shopping dollars elsewhere.
Claremore joins other cities in the Tulsa metro area that have recently passed mask ordinances, including Glenpool, Sapulpa and Jenks.
"You have to fulfill your responsibility," Flanagan said. "Our responsibility is protecting the health and the safety of our citizens. Some things you don't have any choice. It would be easy to walk away from that, but if … the CDC is right that masks make a difference, that's the only insurance we've got until we get a vaccine."
The meeting included a data presentation from Claremore Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Sean Douglas. Claremore has a record number of active cases, with 494. He said hospital capacities are constantly changing, but they have been stressed by the increase.
"Trying to find a bed that is staffed is kind of tricky," he said. "Our local EMS agencies actually delivered people to Nebraska, Kansas City and Houston, Texas, in order to get people a bed available and staffed."
The ordinance will remain in effect until Feb. 28, or until it's repealed. Exemptions to the ordinance include people who fall into the CDC's guidelines for those who shouldn't wear face coverings due to a medical condition, mental health condition or developmental disability.
The city issued other exemptions that include "those who are eating or drinking, those who are exercising in communal outdoor spaces while social distancing, those participating in team athletic events or swimming and those receiving dental services and medical treatments. Face coverings are not required in any non-public area, such as a private office or work area, as long as the persons present are able to maintain physical distancing from others not from the same household."
Interim City Manager John Feary attended the meeting by video, because he's awaiting COVID-19 test results. He said Claremore Public Schools, Rogers State University and Hillcrest Hospital Claremore all supported the ordinance.