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Nirenberg, Eight Other Texas Mayors, Ask Governor To Allow For Face Mask Mandates

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wears a facemask after Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg wears a facemask after Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the mayors of other major Texas cities are asking the governor to allow them to enact and enforce public health emergency declarations that require the use of face masks.

The letter comes from the mayors of Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie. The cities and mayors used to have the authority to require masks through public health orders, which many did. However, Governor Greg Abbott removed the power to fine people for not wearing masks in April.

The mayors said they want autonomy to issue face mask orders as needed, and a statewide one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option.  

“This one step could prove to be the most effective way to prevent the transmission of this disease. Yet many people in many of our cities are still refusing to wear these face coverings even though these coverings are scientifically proven to help prevent the disease from spreading,” the letter stated.  Texas mayors' letter to Gov. Abbott by Texas Public Radio on Scribd

Abbott has encouraged the use of face masks but said fines and penalties — like jail time — are not the answer for wearing one. Abbott has not issued a formal response to the letter as of late Tuesday, but during an earlier press conference on hospitalizations, Abbott said he has made clear that wearing a mask on a daily basis is important.

“Local officials send that same message. All of us have a collective responsibility to educate the public that wearing a mask is the best thing to do. Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing,” he said.

The mayors’ request comes as Texas saw its highest ever daily case count with more than 2,600 new cases reported statewide, which brings the state’s total to 93,000 cases. Texas also has its highest number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital, with more than 2,500 in beds currently. 

On Tuesday night, Bexar County saw its highest single day increase yet at 436 new positive cases. That brought the county up to 4,873 cases since the pandemic began.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff have stressed the importance of face masks. Last week, Wolff sent his own letter to Abbott requesting the same authority as the mayors’ letter.

During Tuesday’s local COVID-19 briefing, Nirenberg said consistent increases were not unique to San Antonio.  

“Every single urban area of the state is seeing this rise in infections, and we all want the economy and businesses and everything to open up, too, but we need to do our part,” Nirenberg said. “We can only say wear a mask so many times. If we don’t have the tools at our disposal to make sure people are, it makes it very difficult.”

In their letter, the nine mayors stressed that if given the opportunity to require face coverings, they believe the residents will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.

“The facts remain the same, the science is the same: wearing masks can save people’s lives and help us slow the spread of the virus, and we’re going to continue to say that regardless of what the state’s allowing us to do,” Nirenberg said. 

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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