Above, Hays County Ruben Becerra announces a new executive order which requires county residents to wear face masks in public places where social distancing cannot occur and requires business to establish a safety policy that would help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Daily Record photo by Nick Castillo
Hays County judge unveils new health order as COVID-19 cases continue rising
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra unveiled a new COVID-19-related executive order Thursday, which requires county residents to wear face masks in public.
The newly announced order goes into effect on Monday and expires on Monday, July 20 at 11:59 p.m.
“Because I don’t want to go back to a quarantine and because I don’t want our businesses to close again, we’ve got to get used to doing the right thing when we’re out in public,” Becerra said at a press conference on Thursday. “Most of us have friends and family we’re looking out for: aging parents, friends who are chronically ill and siblings with compromised immune systems due to severe illnesses. We have to look out for all of them too.”
Hays County has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in June. At the beginning of the month, the county reported a total of 353 cases. As of Thursday, Hays County had 1,448 total cases. Over the last eight days, Hays County has reported 956 new coronavirus cases.
“I feel it is necessary to issue an order to slow the aggressive spread of this relentless virus,” Becerra said. “This is not a fight we can give up on. This pandemic is far from over. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
According to Becerra’s order, county residents 10 years or older must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in a public place where it is difficult to practice 6-feet of distance, which includes grocery stores, pharmacies and workplaces that involve close proximity with other coworkers.
The order does allow county residents to the following activities without a face mask: exercising outside or engaging in physical activities; driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household; when using a mask poses a greater mental or physical risk; pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment; when consuming food or drink; or while in a building that requires security surveillance or screening.
“I’ve been told if we make masks mandatory, we are trampling on our civil liberties,” Becerra said. “My answer to that is, ‘our freedoms, as Americans, come with a responsibility too, and caring for each other and it’s all of our responsibility.’ Wearing a mask while in a place of business is no more trampling on the constitution than mandating folks to wear a seatbelt.”
While Becerra ordered masks to be worn, there is no civil or criminal penalty that can be imposed on individuals who do not wear a mask, according to the order.
Becerra also ordered that commercial entities in Hays County that provide goods and services directly to the public must develop and implement a health and safety policy. According to the order, the policy must require all employees or visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises to wear face coverings, and must also implement other mitigating measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Right now, we hear of businesses shutting down daily because of COVID-19 concerns,” Becerra said. “We need to work on arming businesses with the tools to succeed and stay open.”
Becerra’s order, unlike a similar order issued by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, does not have a penalty set for a business that does not comply with creating a health policy.
Hays County’s new order comes after Gov. Greg Abbott allowed Bexar County to put in place a similar order Wednesday. Austin Mayor Steve Adler followed suit Wednesday requiring Austin businesses to require face masks in their establishment. Local leaders throughout the state, including Becerra, have been vocal in asking Abbott to allow for more local control as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Texas.
Becerra was critical of Abbott’s phased plan to reopen the state, saying that as businesses resumed operations that fewer masks were being worn and social distancing was occurring less frequently.
“The governor began reopening Texas on May 1st and many took that to mean that the coronavirus was no longer a threat,” Becerra said. “The governor believed by recommending social distancing, face masks and hand washing, our citizens would take it seriously. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened … It is no coincidence that as we relaxed our good practices, we started to see positive cases increase.”
Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell, who attended Thursday’s press conference, urged Kyle and Hays County residents to take the order seriously.
“We, as a community and as a region, have been going through a lot of peaks and valleys with regard to COVID-19,” Mitchell said. “One thing that has been made abundantly clear over the last week is that we are certainly not out of the woods. Not only have COVID-19 cases increased exponentially in Hays County over the last week, the number of hospitalizations have also increased at an alarming rate … Only together can we truly stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”