IssuesLocal NewsTravis County GOP Chair Criticizes Exemption of Homeless from Public Facial Coverings Requirement

The new facial covering requirement, from which the homeless are currently exempted, extends through May 8.
April 17, 2020
Earlier this week, the City of Austin and Travis County extended their joint shelter orders to May 8. Along with the extension came a requirement to wear facial coverings in public.

However, the orders provided an exemption for homeless individuals.

They read: “Individuals experiencing homelessness are strongly urged to obtain shelter and are required to make use of such shelter as is made…otherwise, individuals experiencing homelessness are exempt from this Order except that, to the extent individuals are using shared or outdoor spaces, they shall, to the greatest extent feasible, comply with Social Distancing and Face Covering Requirements as set forth.”

While the city encourages homeless individuals to wear facial coverings, it does not require them as it does for the rest of the public.

By contrast, the city’s mask order reads, “When leaving one’s residence, all persons over the age of ten (10) shall wear some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief,” except when alone, only in the presence of household members, when doing so poses a health risk, when engaged in outdoor activity, or when eating or drinking.

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The phrase “to the greatest extent feasible” is not included in the declaratory statute.

Matt Mackowiak, Travis County Republican Party chairman, said of the order in a Friday morning press release, “We do not believe that an executive order that applies to certain Austinites but not others is constitutional. It is certainly not enforceable. The city and the county need to explain how we are safer with a mask requirement that does not apply to the population at greatest risk of contracting coronavirus and spreading it through the community.”

About past public health orders, he added, “It is a fact that the city has exempted the homeless population from nearly every public health guideline that applies to everyone else.”

Last year, the city loosened its camping and lying ordinance allowing homeless individuals to sleep anywhere on public property. After months of criticism from citizens, the city reinstituted some provisions of the original ordinance.

Mackowiak is currently leading a petition effort to reinstate the original camping and lying ban on the November ballot for voter approval. If voters approve the measure, the original ordinance will be reinstated.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt is currently a candidate for Senate District 14 which is being vacated by State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) after resigning to head up the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

The Texas Constitution requires elected officials to resign their position in order to run for a new one. Despite resigning on March 10, Eckhardt pushed back her resignation date and remains in the position since the county has not appointed her successor. At the time, Eckhardt said she made the decision to delay the resignation to work through the coronavirus crisis.

Criticizing Eckhardt’s actions, Mackowiak added, “On March 10, it was evident that coronavirus would present a real threat to Travis County, but Judge Eckhart put her political aspirations ahead of her duty by resigning.”

Neither the city nor county replied to request for comment as of this publishing.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.