McLennan commissioners back away from face mask requirement

Published: Jun. 29, 2020 at 10:12 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 30, 2020 at 5:55 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - After deferring the issue for a day, McLennan County commissioners decided Tuesday against issuing a countywide order directing businesses to require customers and employees to wear face masks.

Saying the potential fine of $1,000 for violators was too onerous, commissioners agreed instead to issue a directive that says residents should wear face coverings in public places and that businesses should develop health plans that include the use of face masks.

Commissioners added a caveat, however; if case numbers continue to increase, face masks could still be required.

The county order does not supersede directives issued earlier by the cities of Waco, Hewitt, Mart and Woodway that do include the face mask requirement.

Bell County commissioners took similar action on Monday, amending an order issued last week by County Judge David Blackburn to read “strongly encourage” rather than require.

The decision comes amid a surge in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county.

Just hours after the vote, McLennan County health officials reported a record 162 new cases of the virus, increasing the county’s total to 957.

Officials also reported a ninth death from the virus, an 87-year-old Hispanic man who died Monday at a local hospital.

The virus is taking a disproportionate toll on Hispanic residents, health officials have said.

Thirty patients were hospitalized Tuesday, four of them on ventilators.

Twenty four of the hospitalized patients are McLennan County residents.

“Right now we are on a trajectory to overwhelm our healthcare system... what we need to do is to take action now,” said Dr. Gregory Newman, the director of urgent care at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center.

“I think that’s the responsible thing to do as a business in the community is to go ahead and look at the data and talk to the experts” and then “encourage my customers to wear mask if they can’t socially distance for each other,” he said.

“What we have found after months of research is that mask use by the majority actually prevents the spread when someone has the virus.”

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver issued a directive on June 20 in response to a spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19 that ordered Waco businesses to require employees and customers to wear face masks and on June 23 the Waco City Council voted to extend the order until at least until July 7.

The order also requires residents to wear facial coverings in public places where physical distancing isn’t possible, but does not include an enforcement penalty or penalties for individuals who don’t comply.

Businesses that don’t follow the order, however, can be fined as much as $1,000.

Woodway, Hewitt and Mart later issued similar orders.

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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