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New order requires Dallas County businesses to mandate masks on premises

Dallas Morning News logo Dallas Morning News 6/19/2020 By Obed Manuel, The Dallas Morning News
a man wearing a suit and tie: Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins removes his mask before a press conference at the Dallas County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management in Dallas on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. \u00d2Thing one that we haven\u00d5t met is two weeks of steady decline,\u00d3 Jenkins said to residents wondering if it is safe to resume normal activities as businesses begin to reopen. He also said it was the deadliest day for the county with 10 new COVID-19 deaths and the highest confirmed amount of new cases in one day: 135. © Lynda M. Gonzalez/Staff Photographer/The Dallas Morning News/TNS Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins removes his mask before a press conference at the Dallas County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management in Dallas on Tuesday, April 28, 2020. \u00d2Thing one that we haven\u00d5t met is two weeks of steady decline,\u00d3 Jenkins said to residents wondering if it is safe to resume normal activities as businesses begin to reopen. He also said it was the deadliest day for the county with 10 new COVID-19 deaths and the highest confirmed amount of new cases in one day: 135.

Updated at 11:01 a.m. on June 19, 2020 with comments from commissioners and more details on order

Dallas County commissioners voted Friday to mandate that businesses in the county must require customers and everyone on premises to wear a mask to contain the spread of COVID-19 as cases continue to climb.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to pass the order — which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight — after a fiery debate.

Commissioners Elba Garcia and Theresa Daniel voted in favor along with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. Commissioners J.J. Koch and John Wiley Price voted against due to concerns around enforcement.

Businesses that don’t comply can face a fine of up to $500 per violation, though law enforcement will not be involved. The order also says masks do not need to be worn when eating.

The order states that “all employees or visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises or other facilities wear face coverings in an area or while performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible.”

Other exceptions to mask wearing continue to include exercising, when it’s a health risk or if the premise requires a security screening, like at banks.

“In talking to the healthcare community, they’re telling us that this is the most important thing we can do to save lives, arrest the spread and help keep businesses open,” Jenkins said during the meeting, defending the new order.

Price and Koch raised concerns about how businesses owned by people of color might be disproportionately affected, and how the order would be enforced.

Businesses can already require that customers wear masks and deny people service on those grounds, Price said.

“They can do that. Why do they need us?” Price asked during the meeting.

Koch said he was disappointed by the vote given the national conversation around policing that has taken place locally and across the country. He added that the county was adding a punishment at a time when the government needs to reduce unnecessary interactions with law enforcement.

“This is a plain example of moving away from that prioritization,” Koch said. “I can hope that we’re not going to have disproportionate enforcement and hope that we don’t have negative interactions between residents and peace officers.”

Beyond that, he said that the county should instead be focused on messaging and education to reduce the spread of COVID-19, particularly among the Hispanic community. Hispanics have the highest confirmed positive COVID-19 rates in the county, according to data provided by the county.

The order comes on the heels of spikes across the county and the state of positive cases of COVID-19, including a record 413 confirmed cases in Dallas County on Wednesday. That same day, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff enacted a similar order to require masks in businesses.

Gov. Greg Abbott did not object to Bexar County’s new rule, telling KWTX anchor Pete Souza on Wednesday: “Just like they can require people to wear shoes and shirts, these businesses can require people to wear face masks if they come into their businesses. Now, local officials are just now realizing that that was authorized.”

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