Local government messaging is in-line with what the Texas governor said this week – we encourage you to wear a mask. But we’re not requiring it.
At a Monday news conference, Governor Greg Abbott used stronger language than in the past to encourage people to wear masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He said closing the state again is a last-resort option.
“I know that some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient or that it’s an infringement of freedom. But I also know that wearing a mask will help us keep Texas open," Abbott said. "Because not taking action to slow the spread will cause COVID to spread even worse, risking people’s lives and ultimately leading to the closure of more businesses.”
Frequently washing hands and maintaining distance from others are recommended by health officials to slow the spread of coronavirus. Face coverings in public are, too. But they seem to be more controversial.
A growing number of scientific studies support the idea that masks are a critical tool in curbing the spread of the coronavirus, NPR reported earlier this week. Masks are better at protecting others from your germs than protecting you from other's, research supports. But when used with other Center for Disease Control suggestions, it seems to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Texas coronavirus statistics have surged in recent weeks, repeatedly topping daily records, Texas Health and Human Services data shows. Key metrics of hospitalizations and rising active cases have some in the state concerned about what’s next as we forge through the pandemic.
State orders have superseded regional government for months, tying the hands of local officials across Texas, no matter what the coronavirus situation is in their area.
“We expected our cases to grow," Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope said on Tuesday. "I think it’s been a little rougher than we hoped. But, we have to figure out a way to coexist with it.”
Texas county leaders found a loophole last week allowing mask orders at local levels. As of Friday, seven counties have called on businesses to require masks for employees and customers. Six of those counties are fining noncompliant businesses.
Governor Greg Abbott told a Waco news station that local officials “finally figured it out.” Governments cannot require individuals to wear masks. But they can require businesses to demand them.
The Texas Tribune reports Abbott’s comments have been controversial with conservative and liberal politicians, at all levels of Texas government.
Abbott has made it clear that individuals should not be fined for not wearing masks. At Tuesday’s Lubbock City Council meeting, the lack of repercussions was cited as a reason to not mandate them locally.
The City of Lubbock announced 140 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. It was the highest single-day spike in the three months since cases were first confirmed in the area.
City data shows over half of Lubbock County’s total 1,547 confirmed cases have been diagnosed in June. The recent surge has been attributed to people under age 30, who now account for almost half of total cases and most recent diagnoses.
Testing has also increased. The positivity rate was near 10% on Tuesday. A lot of cases are still under investigation, but most recent patients have contracted the virus after being exposed to a known case. Several bars have recently been identified as potential exposure sites.
City Councilman Steve Massengale, who co-chairs the Lubbock Economic Recovery Taskforce committee, said the group meets Wednesday and will talk about masking.
“I personally believe it’s the one single thing that can protect us from the threat of COVID-19," Massengale said. "Now for these other counties that have found this window, or supposed window, in this very unclear order from the governor, I guess they’re making decisions that are best for their community. We’re going to pose that question to LERT tomorrow and hopefully, what we’re going to ask them for, is a recommendation to come back to the council.”
Massengale said he personally has not heard from any local businesses who are for or against mask mandates. But as new cases continue to rise, he said he thinks business owners may be thinking about masking differently than they did a few weeks ago.