At a Thursday morning press conferece, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley (R) announced that businesses in the county are now mandated to require employees and visitors to wear face coverings on their premises.
Tarrant County is following the pattern of Dallas and Harris Counties.
The requirement starts Friday, June 26 at 6:00 p.m., and continues until August 3.
“What I want to strongly recommend to everyone is if you leave home, wear a mask,” Whitley emphasized.
Recently, the number of cases in Tarrant County has been increasing. Whitley said that the number of cases has increased by 52 percent in the last two weeks. In the last seven days, 2,277 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Tarrant County, which has a population of over 2.1 million.
“We feel like we can maybe stop this spike that we have been seeing the last few days,” Whitley said, adding that he hopes not to resort to closing down businesses as he did earlier this year.
He mentioned gatherings like graduations and Memorial Day celebrations in his comments about the increase in cases, but didn’t mention the recent racial protests that have taken place in Fort Worth involving hundreds of people in close proximity.
There are currently 342 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Tarrant County up from 204 a week ago. About 1,800 available hospital beds are still available, and the hospitalization rate has remained at about 8 percent based on the number of active cases in the county.
Deaths attributed to coronavirus in the county have reached 218.
The mask order decision is in direct contrast to what Whitley told the attendees at the Texas Senate District 9 Republican Convention on Saturday when he said that he wouldn’t “even attempt to require [mask wearing] as long as our hospitals are ok.”
Fran Rhodes, president of the conservative group True Texas Project and a delegate at Saturday’s convention is disappointed. “I guess you were just lying to your Republican colleagues on Saturday,” she posted on her Facebook page. “I will never trust these people again,” she added.
“We want the people of North Texas to please not panic regarding the COVID-19 virus,” Stephen Love, the president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, said in a statement this week. “The virus has created increased hospitalizations over the past two weeks, but we have capacity in North Texas in our hospitals.”
Whitley said that businesses will be asked to post a sign that masks are required for entry, but if they don’t comply, they can be fined up to $1,000 per violation.
He added that the cities have the ability to institute ordinances and can decide how to enforce the mask requirements. Several mayors, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, were present and supportive of the new order.
Businesses have asked him to implement this order so that they feel more comfortable asking their customers to wear masks, Whitley said.
“Our goal is not to throw people in jail or write citations. It is to get people to wear masks and be considerate and respectful to the people they are around,” Whitley said.
Price added that “We know that masks are not comfortable or cool in the Texas heat, but COVID isn’t comfortable or cool either.”
Whitley said he envisions people wearing masks in restaurants when entering and moving about the restaurant, but not while seated and the table enjoying their meal.
When asked about the change in opinion about the importance of masks since earlier in the pandemic, Dr. Robert Rogers, representative of the Tarrant County Medical Society said, “We learn things over time. Small percentages of mask-wearing can make big differences.”
Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja reminded the public that masking is just one of several ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, along with social distancing and staying at home.
A copy of the order can be found below.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.