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

April Simpson, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Despite public health gains, the measures have prompted pushback. The U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming is monitoring state and county coronavirus safety protocols for constitutional violations. The investigation was prompted by concerns that the orders violated certain individual rights, such as to peaceably assemble.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, there may be other reasons for governors such as Abbott to reconsider. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut announced last week that they will require travelers from several coronavirus hotspot states, including Texas, Arizona and Florida, to quarantine for 14 days.

Texas is geographically and demographically diverse, and Texans are experiencing the pandemic in vastly different ways depending on where they live and work. Metropolitan areas are seeing rising cases and hospitalizations. So are rural places with meatpacking plants, nursing homes and prisons.

But at the local level, the governor's orders have resulted in a patchwork of restrictions. Take the city of Dallas. As an employer, the city requires workers to wear face coverings. But it's a moot point since most employees are teleworking and most city buildings have been closed since March, said Catherine Cuellar, the city's director of communications, outreach and marketing.

Signs posted outside city buildings urge visitors to cover their faces. "It doesn't say face coverings are required because we don't have any enforcement power as a public entity to require it," Cuellar said.

Dallas Police Department employees are required to wear masks while on duty in public. Inside the office, they're only encouraged.

 

A draft document of Texas state public school safety measures obtained by the Texas Tribune shows officials are recommending staff and students wear masks when schools reopen, but that they expect to impose few mandatory safety precautions.

Abbott has consistently declined to give local officials the authority to mandate residents wear masks in public.

But a Bexar County, Texas, judge earlier this month directed businesses to require employees and customers to wear masks inside their establishments or risk a fine. Abbott didn't challenge the order. Instead, he responded as if local officials had finally figured out that they had the authority to regulate masks through businesses.

"It was a poor political play, but it brought in some relief," Henson said.

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