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Bexar County Judge Says Residents 'Don't Have A Constitutional Right' To Spread COVID-19

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Shoppers line up to get into Barton Creek Square Mall in Austin after Texas allowed malls to reopen during the pandemic. Judge Nelson Wolff said in Bexar County he sees far fewer people wearing masks now, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise.

From Texas Standard:

A growing number of local officials in Texas want to have more say in social distancing rules, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations rise across the state.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has not made masks mandatory as part of his state reopening orders. And his orders override any local mask rules.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told Texas Standard host David Brown on Tuesday that it's imperative counties have the authority to enforce mask rules during a pandemic.

"During an emergency, you do not have a Constitutional right to pass on this COVID to someone else that may end up dying because they have health issues," Wolff said.

Bexar County originally had a $1,000 fine for those who didn't wear a mask in public. But that was nullified by Abbott's reopening orders.

Wolff said many in his county have "let their guard down" as the state reopens. He said that especially includes young people. That echoes Gov. Abbott's recent criticism of 20-somethings for failing to take social-distancing and hand-washing precautions seriously, though Abbott didn't provide evidence of increased infection rates among that age group, according to the Austin American-Statesman. But millennials are not alone. Wolff said, anecdotally, he sees only about 50%-60% of people wearing masks in public now.

To Wolff, Abbott made a "vital mistake" taking away counties' authorities on this matter. Wolff has asked Abbott to issue an executive order to give local jurisdictions the authority to enforce their own face mask rules.

In the meantime, businesses do have the authority to require face masks. Wolff said many in his county do, but many others don't. He's looking into possible incentive programs to encourage more businesses to make face masks mandatory.

If social distancing practices don't improve, Wolff said his county is "going to be in serious trouble." Numbers of hospitalizations, intensive care patients and those on ventilators have all about doubled in the past two weeks.

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