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Texas: Virus cases spike while local and state officials bicker over face mask mandates

April Simpson, on

Published in News & Features

States generally supersede local control, but fighting a pandemic requires local cooperation.

"You've got to give flexibility to local government to respond to conditions on the ground, certainly within parameters and goals that are set by the state government," Henson said. "You've got to do that and play it in an even-handed way."

Some in Texas support mandating masks to protect essential workers.

"It gives us the power as small businesses to control the people who come in here," said Hector Huerta, who works for Buda Juice, a juice bar in Dallas.

Face coverings have become a contentious issue. President Donald Trump has refused to wear a face mask in public, mocked his likely Democratic opponent Joe Biden for wearing a mask and told The Wall Street Journal that some Americans wear face masks to signal disapproval of him.

Still, most states -- including the latest coronavirus hot spots Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Utah -- require face coverings at least in specific localities or certain types of businesses, such as among employees or customers of barbershops, salons, restaurants and retail establishments. Texas and at least eight other states make similar recommendations. Iowa, Montana and Oklahoma do neither, according to data compiled by the employment and labor law firm Littler. And only three states in the South require masks.


"We're just trying to rise above that debate and instead lay it out by following the regulators whose only goal is workplace safety," said Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan, where masks are mandated.

Despite the clashes, Americans favor broad COVID-19 restrictions, even if they infringe on personal freedoms and privacy, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University survey released June 23. The national phone survey randomly sampled 1,003 adults nationwide on landlines and cellphones May 20-25.

Although 79% of Americans support mandatory face masks in enclosed public spaces, 63% of those who approve of Trump's leadership through the pandemic favor mandatory masks, as opposed to 95% who disapprove of his leadership. The survey found a similar breakdown between Republicans and Democrats. Wearing masks is supported by 74% of white respondents compared with 98% of Black respondents. Black Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus.

States that mandated face masks in public saw a greater decline in COVID-19 growth rates than states that did not, according to a Health Affairs study released June 16. The study looked at 15 states and the District of Columbia that first required face masks in public between April 8 and May 15. By May 22, as many as 230,000 to 450,000 COVID-19 cases may have been averted based on when states passed mandates, the study found.


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