The Tuesday evening Duncan City Council meeting, which flowed a little out of order, saw DRH Health President and CEO Jay Johnson once again ask the board to consider a mask mandate, and toward the end of the meeting, some disagreement from Vice Mayor Lindsay Hayes.

The regularly scheduled meeting agenda had only a few items on it. The second item, which would have the board listen to a presentation and consider accepting the 2019 audit and financial statements from Anne Elfrink, MS, CPA, was originally pulled because the auditor did not arrive in time for the item. Because of this, city leadership continued through the rest of the agenda. During public comment time, the auditor arrived, which put the council meeting out of order.

Before the auditor’s arrival, Johnson took to the podium during public comment time to talk about the hospital’s standings and what would happen if COVID-19 numbers continue to set records in Stephens County.

Johnson: ‘I’m telling you, every hospital is full’

“I’m here tonight really to plea for further consideration of a mask ordinance, but also … at a minimum, if we can get everyone in our community showing their support for a mask,” Johnson said. “I realize we’re kind of at this point of choice versus no choice but I seem to be sensing that there’s quite a bit of support around, ‘if I’m not forced to do it, maybe I’ll do more of it.’ I mean, we’re going to have to do something because the hospital is in trouble.”

Johnson said the hospital has had an uptick in patients since the first visit medical professionals made with Duncan City Council on Oct. 27.

“On that night we had 16 patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19,” Johnson said. “(Tuesday) morning (Nov. 24) we had 32. We’ve doubled in four weeks. What will we look like in four more weeks? If we double again, and have 64 COVID-19 patients, that will be about all our hospital is doing. We will be redeploying all of our staff that work in all the other services that our community depends on to just care for the number of patients that are coming in our doors.”

Stephens County set a record number of active cases on Monday, Nov. 23 at 394. That record was shattered Wednesday, Nov. 25 when Stephens County’s data showed 408 active cases in the county.

“The number last week was 259 active cases and on Oct. 24, a month ago, it was 168,” Johnson said. “That’s a 52% increase in one week, that’s 134% increase in a month.”

According to Johnson, 59% of the patients admitted right now are COVID-19 patients.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my career,” Johnson said. “The entire second floor, end to end, all 28 beds (Tuesday) morning was all COVID-19 patients.”

The hospital has undergone numerous changes already to handle the mounting pressure the facility is under from the pandemic. Johnson said this includes closing the orthopedic joint center, canceling all elective in-patient surgeries, redeploying active advance practice nurses who normally work in a clinic but are now seeing COVID-19 patients in the hospital and reducing out-patient surgery elective care.

“If you know about hospital finance, you know that hospitals make their margin, their thin margin, on out-patient surgeries and imagery, and as we reduce those, that makes it much more difficult,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of nonsense out there about hospitals making a profit of this pandemic. I’m here to tell you, the largest employer in the county, DRH Health, is reducing services to care for those with COVID-19. One of the biggest fears we all have is someone requiring us to shutdown our economy again. In other words, this pandemic is forcing DRH Health to reduce our contributions to the local economy. This pandemic is requiring us to shutdown health care services that many of you or your loved ones may need. This is not a hoax. This is real.”

Johnson called on the work of Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, who served as the State Epidemiologist until late July, depicting a grim outlook for the state of Oklahoma if proper COVID-19 avoidance tactics aren’t used correctly.

“Probably the most troublesome thing I’ve heard in the last week, we had a presentation last week from … Dr. Wendelboe … He said based on how our state currently follows guidelines on masks and distancing and hygiene, they believe hospitalizations will triple over the next 30 days,” Johnson said. “Best case scenario is probably doubling, which is what we’re working toward. I’m not sure how we triple, if that really happens. We need to do something as a community, we need to come together as a community, because this isn’t just Duncan. We can all sit back and say, ‘well, our hospital is full’ — I’m telling you, every hospital is full. I do calls with them every day, and it’s a frightening time.”

With no more comments from the public, Council put the meeting in reverse and headed back to the audit report. At this time, Johnson and other hospital staff left. A report on the audit, which was clean, will print in another edition of The Duncan Banner.

Hayes: ‘There are ways to remove me from this seat and I welcome you to do it’

Following the audit talk, Mayor Ritchie Dennington opened the floor for comments from the council. With a mostly empty council chamber and no medical personnel left, Vice Mayor Lindsay Hayes made an emotional comment disagreeing with the idea of a mandate.

“So many people are asking me to say something, so I felt I should in regard to the mask mandate,” Hayes began. “I really appreciate Jay presenting here tonight and I just want to start by saying that I think it’s easy to get on Facebook and talk about the medical community like they have no face. People who are against the mandate can really — like I said in the last time I spoke, there’s on both sides, mask mandate, no mandate — it’s been very hot topic and people are sensitive on the issue and they can get kind of heated on both ends, and I think on Facebook it’s easy to remove a face from who you’re talking about. When I say I want to put a face to it, the medical community has my utmost respect and I feel I owe my life to them, most especially Dr. McGouran and Judy Gilbreth in the birth of my daughter. If it weren’t for their intervention in my birth … there’s no doubt in my mind that at least she wouldn’t be with me. I just want to put a face to those men and women that are out there, that are wonderful, beautiful people with gorgeous families, who are good citizens, who I happen to disagree with.”

To begin her argument, Hayes talked about the fear and uncertainty in the beginning of the pandemic, and spoke about how many watched as their own lives took the back burner.

“In the beginning … it was a time of fear and uncertainty and we all banded together to ensure everyone stayed safe,” Hayes said. “The community sat back and did what they were asked to do and they watched how things went down and what happened, and what happened was thousands — thousands — of small businesses forced to close while huge corporations made billions. They were called non-essential and they even allowed that title to be given to their mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, brothers, cousins. They lost their jobs and were forced to become entirely dependent upon the government. They watched their neighbors suffer from extreme domestic violence, depression, anxiety that resulted in suicide. They were told they couldn’t gather in groups of 10 or more and that places of worship were closed. They watched … where a single mother would be thrown in jail because she opened her business without permission from the state in order to feed her family and then watched as thousands of people gathered in the streets to protest, riot, burn homes and businesses without any consequences.”

From there, Hayes said “they also allowed the medical community to separate families from each other, forcing people to needlessly die alone.”

“My stepmother is an oncology nurse, and she told me — she’s told me so many stories, heartbreaking, heartbreaking stories — and one of them, which this is one of many, where a wife was getting sicker and sicker — she didn’t have COVID, neither did her husband,” Hayes said. “She was getting sicker and sicker and they were going to be forced to send her to the hospital and they sat in her office, crying — it’s just heartbreaking — because they knew that it was very likely the last time he would ever see his wife and she was going to die alone. My stepmother was so heartbroken that she didn’t even understand. She’s a nurse and she doesn’t understand why he couldn’t be with her. And honestly … I can only hope — this may be offensive to some — but I can only hope that God forgives us for letting that happen. And that’s just one family, this is happening all over the place all the time.”

Hayes claimed many of those who have pushed for a mask mandate are caught in public without one themselves.

“We’ve also watched leaders in our community start to push for a mask mandate and not wear masks themselves,” Hayes said. “I mean, I’ve looked at The Duncan Banner, you can look on the front page of The Duncan Banner just last week. Facebook (SIC). I’ve also seen people who write me, who post really rude things on Facebook calling non-mask-wearers murderers and saying how they’re going to sit at home and quarantine and I run into them at The Simmons Center, Walmart, I see them at the grocery store, and sometimes I see them without a mask and I’m not the only person … I might as well just carry a beer or a cheeseburger around all the time because if I have that, nobody questions it, if I don’t have a mask on I don’t even have to separate myself from you, I can sit at a table and eat and there’s no problem.”

Hayes said some see the mask as a way to “silence” them.

“The community was told to do this just for a little while to help flatten the curve and they did,” Hayes said. “The curve was flattened and now we’re back. We were even told a couple of months ago a spike would happen in the fall, and now it’s here and they’re back telling us we need temporary situations but it’s the same temporary situations as eight months ago, only this time not only are they looking at a repeat for everything they’ve suffered but they’re being told they should be mandated to wear a mask, which at this point, a lot of people feel is like a force of silence, they’re being forced to silence themselves or cover their mouths toward the oppression. People who aren’t for a mandate are called uneducated, conspiracy theorists, idiots and even murderers. You kind of look at it and you think … ‘maybe that’s … what they feel is happening,’ but even after all the things I just mentioned, it seems like anybody would be a little cautious about any kind of mandate that comes their way in regard to COVID.”

She then spoke on proposed green-zones and how some conspiracy theorists may not be conspiracy theorists anymore.

“But I even had a person come to me and asked me, they said, ‘I’ve heard that they were having people come to homes, test people for COVID, remove people from their homes and put them in camps.’ I was like, ‘that’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely insane, that’s never been the discussion, that’s rumors and fear-mongering and you shouldn’t listen to it, and just have peace and let’s move forward,’ but then I went and researched it and that was the World Health Organization who said that, and then, if you want to even look at the CDC, they put it out in July about green-zones and doing the same thing and they’re really talking about it, so are they conspiracy theorists anymore?”

From there, Hayes tone shifted and became more emotional as she talked about the mental pandemic that has accompanied COVID-19.

“You can also talk about the mental pandemic,” Hayes said. “There are reports that show sometimes there’s a 10-to-1 suicide rate for every COVID death rate (SIC), so 10 suicides to one COVID — what about those numbers and where’s the burden on the therapists and the counselors and the psychologists are bearing? They can’t see anybody else. My stepmother is talking about how they’re trying to refer people to get help and they can’t. They can’t get help, what about them? They’re just forced to go home and cover their mouths and be quiet?”

She talked about her own personal experience with suicide and people she knows.

“Let me give my own statistics on COVID and suicide,” Hayes said. “I think a lot of people look at me like I don’t — I mean, I don’t wear a mask most of the time, and they think that’s because I don’t know anybody who has had COVID, I don’t know anybody that’s died of COVID, but that would be wrong. I know many people who have had COVID and I know two people personally that have died of COVID.”

Over the last nine years, Hayes said she’s known people who have committed suicide. Hayes said in less than six weeks, the number of people she knows who were victims of suicide has doubled as a side effect of COVID-19.

“Those people are all my age or younger and those are people I know personally and nobody knew or saw it coming, so right now I’m wondering about those people,” Hayes said. “Right now, I know more people that have died or become victims of suicide during COVID than I have of people who have died of COVID.”

Hayes again shifted the subject and spoke about how everyone is a hero in the pandemic.

“I feel like the medical field — they’re all heroes. Everybody keeps saying they’re heroes, you’re right, absolutely. They’re heroes, I’ve always felt that they were heroes,” Hayes said. “But so are firefighters, police officers, teachers, everyone who is out there on the front lines. Again, we’re coming back to the non-essential — everyone is a hero in this pandemic, everyone. The woman who has to go home and work from home with four kids who have to be there with them and she’s having to educate them because their school has shut down — she’s a hero. What about the parents that can work outside of the home and they have to because they trying to support their families, but their school is shut down and their eight-year-old is home by their self and they’re trying to figure out how to get the education he needs while putting food on the table — hero. Everyone’s a hero. Everyone is essential, and everyone is a hero, and we should all be together on this and supporting each other and dropping the names like, ‘you’re an idiot,’ ‘you’re a conspiracy theorist,’ ‘you’re uneducated,’ and ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ on both sides.”

Hayes also claimed that some people in the medical field feel they have to support a mask mandate for fear of losing their jobs.

“After all of that, I lay awake at night — I volunteer for this,” Hayes said with an uncomfortable laugh. “I laugh awake at night and cannot sleep because I think, ‘am I still making the right decision by not wanting a mask mandate and fighting against a mask mandate?’ Because the burden is so incredibly great, it’s so incredibly great to me. But what cinched it for me was the local — local — COVID nurses, doctors, business owners whose success is directly affected by the relationship with the hospital and hospital staff who have personally contacted me to keep fighting against a mask mandate. 

“And just so you know, I did call some people on that petition the hospital put out, some of them said they were in absolute full support of a mask mandate but others said, they said, ‘What can I do but sign it?’ So these people told me they can’t afford to risk losing their jobs — which is interesting to me, the nurses are worried about losing their jobs,” Hayes continued. “The people can’t afford losing their businesses, they won’t stand publicly in opposition to the mask mandate but they said ‘I’ll support you any way, any way other than standing up and publicly showing my face, my name because I have to take care of my family and I have to take care of my business.’ What they tell me, and this is from many people … and I’m only talking about the medical field. The COVID nurses, the doctors, the businesses, and the hospital staff, I’m not talking about the citizens of Duncan, they say, ‘you have to continue being the voice of the people who aren’t allowed to speak.’

Before finishing her comment, Hayes said for those who think she isn’t leading correctly, there’s a way to remove her from the city council.

“It’s obvious where I stand on the issue. I think that the hospital has every right to recommend, we can encourage. I think Jay’s right, it’s great to encourage people to wear the masks, but as long as I’m up here, I will fight for the right of the people to have the freedom to choose. Absolutely, 100%. And if I am so far off on how I view what the people are telling me to do, if I am so wrong in all that I said, there are ways to remove me from this seat and I welcome you to do it. You can even put that in the paper, maybe tell people how to get me off the seat because I’m not here for political aspirations, I’m here to serve people and if I’m not doing, they have every right to ask me to leave and I will graciously do it and say, ‘I’m not representing you well’ and I’ll be happy to go, but until then I feel like the amount of people that have contacted me, even asked me to say this tonight, I feel like I’m representing them well and I feel honored to do it.”

Dennington: ‘Mandate is not a word that I like to use and won’t’

Dennington spoke after Hayes, echoing a lot of her statement and concluding that mandate is a word he doesn’t like to use and “won’t.”

“I would just like to reiterate several things that the vice mayor said,” Deninngton said. “This part of the country is noted for being rugged individualists. Being individuals that make their own decisions, that do their own things, and do not like to be told what to do but this group is also great about coming to people’s aid when they ask for it or sometimes when they don’t even ask for it. The nurses, the doctors, a lot of people are asking for help. I think if you have the opportunity to provide an extra layer of safety for someone in your area, whether it’s to wear a mask into public place or something, it’s your choice. It’s your choice, in my opinion, but once again so many people in the medical community and others have asked for help and once again, as the vice mayor said, I support and encourage and recommend, but mandate is not a word that I like to use and won’t.”

The next Duncan City Council meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Dec. 8 at Duncan Council Chambers, located inside the Duncan Police Department.

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