Travis and Hays counties are following the footsteps of other local governments in Texas and directing businesses to develop safety policies that require employees and customers wear masks.
Though Gov. Greg Abbott has been urging Texans to wear masks voluntarily during the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s refused to make it a requirement for individuals. He said Wednesday, though, that local governments can require businesses to have such policies. (Austin issued its order that evening.)
“Just like they can require people to wear shoes and shirts, businesses can require people to wear face masks if they come into their business,” Abbott told KWTX-TV.
The Travis County and Hays County orders tell all commercial entities that offer goods and services directly to the public to come up with a health and safety policy that requires all employees and visitors to wear face coverings when in spaces where 6 feet of separation from others isn’t possible.
The policies must be posted somewhere visible to patrons and workers. Businesses have to implement the policies by Tuesday, otherwise in Travis County they could be fined up to $1,000. While Hays County's order initially included a fine for violators, it was removed Friday to give struggling businesses "the opportunity to comply without subjecting them to the possibility of fines."
Travis County's order expires Aug. 15, and Hays County's expires July 20.
The Hays County order also says all people 10 years or older must wear a face covering in any public place in the county where they can’t keep 6 feet away from others. But, as one of Abbott’s executive orders states, no civil or criminal penalty can be imposed on people who don’t wear one.
The new policies come as both counties are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. Travis County reported a record 220 new cases Wednesday, and it’s now had about 5,000 total reported cases since March. Hays County’s recent daily numbers have also been in the triple digits.
“With our COVID-19 case counts increasing rapidly here in Hays County, including 210 cases today alone, it’s important that we get back to doing those simple things that can help protect the most vulnerable in our community,” County Judge Ruben Becerra said in a statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people to wear face coverings in public settings where it’s hard to keep a safe distance from others. That’s because COVID-19 can spread between people in close proximity, like when they talk, sneeze or cough, even if they’re not showing symptoms. Homemade masks, scarves and bandanas can all be used to cover the nose and mouth.
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