A proposal to enact a mandatory mask ordinance was overwhelmingly opposed by residents present for a hearing on the matter Monday morning. The measure was quickly shot down 6-1 by the Odessa City Council.
The proposal would have been similar to what other local governments are imposing on businesses after Gov. Greg Abbott told local governments they could indirectly mandate businesses to require masks.
Odessa residents spoke out in what appeared to be near unanimity against the proposal; six of the seven city council members also voiced their opposition to the mandate before voting.
“Is slowly losing our freedoms because of a want of a little safety really worth it?” one Odessa resident asked the city council. “Is this what my father fought for?”
Odessa resident Dallas Kennedy didn’t take a position for or against the mask mandate; however, he was extensively critical of Abbott’s handling of the government’s response to the coronavirus.
“It is Gov. Abbott who put you in this situation, Mayor Turner,” Kennedy said. “You know what he is going to do? You are going to pass this ordinance on his recommendation, and when you enforce it in two weeks, he will be on national television, saying ‘Mayor Turner in Odessa is a liberal communist’ for enforcing a mask mandate that [Abbott] insisted we do.”
Kennedy, who was supposed to serve as a delegate at the Republican Party state convention next month, added that he sees “ridiculousness” in Abbott’s order for telling cities that they cannot have more than 100 people attend an outside event, like 4th of July celebrations, while planning on 6,000 delegates being at an indoor event in Houston.
Dr. Ben Quiroz also spoke out against the proposal, saying, “I don’t think a mandate does anything except cause more anxiety for our community.”
Quiroz, who is an elected board member for Medical Center Hospital (MCH), went on to say, “I know I don’t want more government infringing on my rights as a citizen of Odessa.”
Also addressing the city council was Dr. Rohith Saravanan, who serves as the chief medical officer at Odessa Regency Medical Center. While it was unclear where Dr. Saravanan stood on the ordinance itself, he emphasized the importance of people taking self-responsibility and encouraged voluntary usage of face masks and other efforts to help curb the spread of the virus.
“If there is an opportunity for us to protect one another, if there is an opportunity for us to curb the spread of the disease, then we should all be [for the choice] of stopping the spread of the disease,” Saravana said. “We can do it in a way that protects our civil liberty, our choice, and we can do it in a way that we can move forward and come to a new norm that we are all going to be looking forward to. We want our schools to open in the fall, we want our businesses to stay open, we want our hospitals to provide great quality care.”
Dr. Saravanan also explained how the COVID-19 virus spreads via droplets of water from the nose and mouth, illustrating how wearing a mask can help keep those droplets from becoming airborne. He also cautioned the audience, saying that the local hospital capacity is nearly full.
After roughly an hour of residents lining up one by one to speak out against the mandate, city council members individually addressed the audience, with six of the seven-member council expressing that they shared many of the same views as those who opposed the mandate.
Mayor Turner then called for a vote, where District 5 Councilwoman Mari Willis was the lone vote for the mask mandate. The mandate failed 6-1.