David Carroll wears a cloth face mask made by his wife while shopping in Owasso Tuesday, April 7. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

On April 6, at the last in-person meeting of the Guthrie city council, the mayor, Steve Gentling, wore a purple face mask and sat six feet from each of his colleagues.

To Gentling and other council members, legally mandating the use of face masks in public represented a compromise between the need to protect community health and the need to keep Guthrie’s economy functioning. “We were following C.D.C. guidance,” Gentling told me. “We felt that the mask was a pretty important barrier to the spread of the virus. 

At least four other Oklahoma communities soon followed Guthrie’s lead in requiring them. Chickasha, a small oil town surrounded by towering rigs south of Oklahoma City, passed a mask ordinance in mid-April. “The face mask doesn’t protect me,” Chris Mosley, the mayor, said. “It keeps me from possibly infecting somebody else.”

First, mayors in the state’s major cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, issued shelter-in-place orders for all residents. (The governor had only ordered a “safe at home” order in which people over sixty-five or with underlying health conditions were told do so.)

In Guthrie and Chickasha, the mayors are registered Republicans who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. But they haven’t dismissed public-health officials’ recommendations as the President sometimes has, and they’ve responded to the threat more aggressively than has the state’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt.

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