Two Brazos County commissioners urged the court at the end of its weekly meeting Tuesday morning to enact a mandate that businesses require mask use, and they called for the topic to be on next week’s court agenda for formal discussion.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Nancy Berry said during the “possible future agenda items” portion of the meeting that she wanted to see the five-person court pass a mask mandate inside Brazos County businesses, as some large municipalities in Texas have done recently. Precinct 4 Commissioner Irma Cauley also expressed her support for a requirement for a measure that public health experts have said helps to mitigate transmission of COVID-19.
“The main responsibility of the county is the health and safety of our citizens, and I’d like to propose that we require masks for customers and employees of businesses in Brazos County,” Berry said. She then shared statistics indicating that the county is in the top 20 Texas counties in numbers of cases and deaths related to COVID-19, and that the county has a number of cases per 1,000 residents higher than the state’s rate overall.
The county health district reported 379 new cases over the past week as of Monday afternoon, and 45 new cases of COVID-19 were reported midday Tuesday.
As he has articulated in recent days, Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said he supports the use of face coverings but opposes a mandate, in part because such a requirement, in his analysis, would be unenforceable.
“I don’t like passing things that there’s not just any way we would be able to mandate,” Peters said. “My preference has been that we strongly encourage masks and continue to do that.”
Following the brief back-and-forth between Berry and Peters, Assistant County Attorney Ed Bull approached the microphone and said that further discussion outside of a formal agenda item may be a violation of protocol.
“I’d like to see the item on next week’s agenda,” Berry said.
Cauley then added her support for a mask-use mandate for businesses.
“It sets a tone that we are not just encouraging it, but that it is most important that we all do what we can to save the lives of others,” she said.
Berry told The Eagle after the meeting that even with questions of enforceability, a mask-use mandate could be effective.
“If somebody comes into a business and they don’t have on a mask, an employee can say, ‘Please put on your mask. It’s a county mandate,’ ” Berry said. “I think that has more enforceability than just saying, ‘Hey, we’d like you to wear your mask.’ ”
Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan articulated the importance of mask usage at a Monday afternoon press conference.
“The point of the mask is that even before those symptoms are present, we could be contagious. So the idea of a covering helps decrease those secretions to the environment and to our fellow neighbors,” Sullivan said Monday.
New Precinct 2 Commissioner Chuck Konderla said after Tuesday’s meeting that he has heard from constituents both in favor of and in opposition to a mask-use mandate. He said he wants to learn more in the coming days about the enforceability of a mask requirement.
“I want to talk with county attorneys and law enforcement. I need to know if it is enforceable,” Konderla said. “On the one hand, it sends a message, and it’s a nice symbol to show that the commissioners court is concerned about public health. On the other hand, it sends a confusing message to law enforcement if we’re passing a mandate that is not enforceable.
“I’m not for passing something that provides confusion to law enforcement if it is not enforceable.”
Messages to Precinct 1 Commissioner Steve Aldrich seeking his perspective on a mask mandate had not been returned as of press time Tuesday night.
According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver issued an order last Friday stating that Waco businesses must require employees and visitors to wear masks or other face coverings when multiple people are in the same room. The order went into effect Saturday.
“The order mandates that any business selling goods or services to the public within city limits create and post a COVID-19 health and safety policy by Wednesday that includes a requirement for masks,” the Waco newspaper reported. “Failure to post and enforce the policy would result in a fine of up to $1,000 per day of violation, according to the order. No fine or enforcement mechanism is included for the requirement that the general public wear masks.”
At Monday’s press conference, College Station Mayor Karl Mooney said the city’s council will discuss a possible mask mandate for businesses during its Thursday afternoon workshop session.
A video recording of Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting is available on Brazos County’s Facebook page.