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What to know about the mask ordinance in places of worship

Posted at 5:03 PM, Jul 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-19 12:32:36-04

TULSA, Okla. — As health care workers grapple with Oklahoma's current sharp increase of COVID-19 cases, leadership across the state is continuing to remind the public to social distance, wash your hands, and wear a mask.

Wearing a mask has been optional within the city of Tulsa up until a few days ago.

A mandatory mask ordinance was put in place on Wednesday, July 15th.

Health officials like Tulsa County Health Department Executive Director, Dr. Bruce Dart, say the mask is not to protect the wearer but others from the wearer, who may have COVID-19 and are asymptomatic.

Mayor G.T. Bynum urges that this measure is to support hospital infrastructure by flattening the curve.

Mayor Bynum tells us, "we won’t see the impact of this according to Dr. Dart probably for week or two because it takes that time for the changes we made to have an impact and show up in the data."

The ordinance stretches from restaurants and gyms to grocery stores and shopping centers.

The mask ordinance states people must wear masks in public settings this does include churches.

However, the wording of the ordinance states:

"Except as otherwise provided herein, persons located within Public Service Areas of Places of Public Accommodation or an Educational Building are required to wear face coverings at all times when present therein. Except as otherwise provided herein, persons in any Public Setting wherein social or physical distancing cannot be maintained are required to wear face coverings."

"They way that we are interpreting that," Mayor G.T. Bynum said, "Within a church if folks are socially distant it doesn't apply to them."

While opinions on a mask ordinance are mixed, one reverend we spoke to says he is more worried about having service with this ordinance.

The reverend for Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ, Chris Moore, tells us, "what I am concerned about it people will put on a mask and feel a false sense of security and engage in behaviors even more dangerous than not having a mask”

While reverend Moore continues his services online, other churches are looking forward to getting back in the buildings as they choose to follow the new ordinance.

Reverend Moore tells us, "I know churches are exempt but it shouldn’t take an ordinance for houses of worship to take safety very seriously. I'm very happy there's a mask ordinance, I'm very happy the city is doing that."

We spoke to another Green Country pastor, Jamaal Dyer, about the mask ordinance.

Pastor Dyer is supportive of the ordinance, he says because a steady decline in cases means his congregation will be back in the building.

“There’s nothing like family and community and I’m looking forward to being back in the space”, Dyer says.

And while there is an understanding of why the ordinance is in place, both reverend Moore and pastor Dyer hope it's not replaced by something worse; so they can return to their buildings one day.

Mayor Bynum said the council may consider looking into adapting the ordinance to include some of the exceptions like religious spaces in the future, but that will depend on how cases trend in the coming weeks.

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