By Carlos Morales
Following the lead of other Texas governments, Marfa City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to issue an order mandating businesses to require their employees and customers wear face coverings when social distancing isn’t possible.
The order seems to be the only way for city and county officials to enact mask ordinances while falling in line with Gov. Greg Abbott’s previous edicts which prevent officials from mandating mask ordinances for individuals (but not for businesses).
“We need to work with our local businesses on this to make sure that it works for them and it’s serving the purpose of protecting everybody from the spread,” said City Attorney Teresa Todd during Thursday’s emergency meeting.
The order goes into effect Monday, June 22 and city officials will meet days later for a public hearing to consider feedback from locals and businesses. After a five-day grace period, the city will begin levying fines up to $1,000 against anyone who violates the mandate
As it was passed, the order says all commercial entities in Marfa “providing goods and services directly to the public” must create a health and safety policy that — at a minimum — requires employees and visitors to a business to wear face coverings, where practicing social distancing isn’t possible.
The policies must be posted somewhere visible to patrons and workers. If a person refuses to wear a face covering, the business can request they leave — and if they don’t, the order suggests businesses call the Marfa Police Department.
As passed, there are few exceptions to the order. People don’t have to wear a face covering “while in a building…that requires security or surveillance, for example, a bank.” They also don’t have to wear them while eating or drinking in a restaurant or bar.
While the order sets a minimum for what a business’ health and safety policy could look like, it also allows them to include additional “mitigating efforts” like temperature checks or health screenings.
Gov. Greg Abbott has urged Texans to voluntarily wear masks, but has stopped short of requiring it. Earlier this week, mayors in some of the largest cities in the state, including El Paso and Austin, sent a letter to Abbott asking for authority to enforce mask rules, as cases and hospitalizations surge in the state.
“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask,” Abbott said back in April as he revealed his plans for reopening Texas. “However, it’s not a mandate. And we make clear that no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”
But on Wednesday, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an order requiring businesses to implement rules for employees and customers to wear face coverings.
Following the Bexar County order, Gov. Abbott said in an interview with KWTX-TV that “there had been a plan all along” and that local governments could order mask requirements for businesses, just not individuals. Someone “finally figured that out,” Abbott said.
“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,” said Abbott.
Following Abbott’s comments, counties and cities throughout Texas have moved to pass similar orders to the one enacted in Bexar County. The Cities of Austin and El Paso, along with Travis and Hays Counties have all put in place mask requirements for businesses this week.