Update: Dallas County Passes New Mask Requirements for Businesses

Better masked than dead.
Better masked than dead. Engin Akyurt/ Pixabay
9:33 a.m. Friday: This story has been updated with the results of Friday morning's vote in the Dallas County Commissioners Court.

The Dallas County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 Friday morning to support a watered-down version of a mask order proposed by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Under the rules passed by the court, businesses that do not require customers and employees to wear masks will face a $500 fine, half the amount initially proposed by the county judge. Per the revised order, any penalties issued for lack of enforcement will be civil, rather than criminal.

The mask order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight. Barring any further action from the commissioners, it will expire with the rest of the county's COVID-19 emergency order on August 4.

Commissioners Elba Garcia and Theresa Daniel joined Jenkins in voting for the order. John Wiley Price and JJ Koch voted against it.

The move comes two days after Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff solved Gov. Greg Abbott's riddle and lit the path for his fellow municipal leaders. Soon after that, counties around the state, cautious over the spread of the novel coronavirus but wary of Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's wrath, began following Wolff's lead, crafting orders that require businesses to require customers to wear face coverings while inside.

Thursday, as Jenkins announced Dallas County's latest COVID-19 infection and hospitalization statistics, the judge said he wanted a local mask order.

“I’m asking the Commissioners Court to consider an order requiring masks at businesses here in Dallas County," Jenkins said. "Recent medical studies and the reports coming from them tell us that masks are the single most important tool we have to stop the spread and surge in cases and infections that we are seeing and keep our economy moving.”

Dallas County made a similar effort to require masks in May only to have Paxton warn that the county's actions violated Texas law. The thing that makes ordinances like the one in Bexar County legal this time around, Abbott said, is the way it is enforced, as a requirement for business rather than individuals.

"You don’t need to wait on the government to wear a mask when on public transportation or at businesses" — Clay Jenkins

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According to the Texas Tribune, Texas has reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in each of the last seven days.

Dallas County Health and Human Services reported the county's highest-ever number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, as well, with 423. North Texas hospitals are currently treating 923 COVID-19 patients.

"This number is the one to watch most closely as this represents the tip of the iceberg that you can see and gives an indication to the amount of COVID-19 cases spreading in the community that you are yet to see," Jenkins said. "You don’t need to wait on the government to wear a mask when on public transportation or at businesses. Maintain 6-foot distancing at all times, use good hand hygiene and avoid unnecessary crowds." 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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