Texas Mayors to Governor: You Need To Let Us Enforce Rules About Mask-Wearing

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MARCH 18: Texas Governor Greg Abbott displays COVID-19 test collection vials as he addresses the media during a press conference held at Arlington Emergency Management on March 18, 2020 in Arlingto... ARLINGTON, TEXAS - MARCH 18: Texas Governor Greg Abbott displays COVID-19 test collection vials as he addresses the media during a press conference held at Arlington Emergency Management on March 18, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. Abbott announced that Arlington health officials received 2,500 testing kits so all residents and workers at the Texas Masonic Retirement Home, the retirement home where COVID-19 victim Patrick James lived with his wife, will be tested for the virus. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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June 17, 2020 1:28 p.m.

A group of nine Texas mayors from both sides of the aisle wrote to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday requesting that he allow them to enforce local regulations that would require masks be worn to protect against the coronavirus. 

“If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide,” the Texas mayors wrote in a letter, “we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced.” 

The letter comes as Texas appears to be growing into a coronavirus hotspot. More than 2,600 new cases were recorded in the state on Tuesday, surpassing a previous record from a week before, according to the Texas Department of Public Health.

Although the governor often encourages Texans to don masks in public statements, he issued an executive order first at the end of April and most recently on June 3, banning local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on those who don’t wear face coverings.

“I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that message,” Abbott said in a press conference on Tuesday. “Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing.” Abbott was responding to a question about calls that also came from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins for imposing mask requirements.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins fired back at the governor in a statement that he also tweeted out on Tuesday.

“Let’s be clear about masking,” Jenkings wrote. “No one could be jailed for not wearing a mask under my or the City of Dallas’ orders.”

After the governor’s remarks Tuesday, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted:

Nirenberg — whose Twitter handle includes the words “wear a mask!” — was among the mayors who penned the letter to the governor imploring him to allow local officials to make decisions on a policy they uniformly agreed upon. 

Bexar County, which includes part of San Antonio, reported 436 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, marking the highest single-day increase since the pandemic arrived in the United States. 

“We’re in the worst crisis we’ve had since this started,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a briefing Tuesday with Nirenberg. “We’re going to be in a lot of trouble if we don’t do something to cure this.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an order Wednesday that demanded businesses require employees and customers to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible, according to The Texas Tribune.

Houston’s Mayor Sylvester Turner (D) also signed the letter. Director of Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Lina Hidalgo, who is also County Judge, expressed alarm about increasing rates of infection last week.

“I want the reopening to be successful,” she said in a news conference on Thursday. “I want the economy to be resilient. But I am growing increasingly concerned that we may be approaching the precipice of a disaster.”

The governor’s June executive order stated that “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.” The consensus among public health experts is that masks help to slow the spread of the virus.

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