Shortly after the Marble Falls City Council approved July 2 by a majority vote removing a mandatory face covering order for local businesses, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott overrode the municipality's decision with a sweeping state-wide edict.
"Every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household," the order stated. Fines for violations are ordered not to exceed $250. (See the entire order posted on our website.)
Prior to the state order during a special Marble Falls council meeting, the local body rejected extending its own mandatory face covering rule by a 4-3 vote that would have penalized businesses who failed to require customers to wear them before entering.
Instead, council members extended an emergency declaration – initially made on June 29 – while making “masks highly recommended but not mandated.”
Mayor John Packer made the original order. He and council members Celia Merrill and Rene Rosales – who stated he wanted to approve “mandatory wearing” – voted against the extension removing the mask requirement.
Council members Reed Norman, Craig Magerkurth, Richard Westerman and Dave Rhodes voted for the emergency declaration but without mandatory face coverings.
The disaster order is set to expire July 13.
Rhodes made the motion to approve extending the disaster declaration.
Norman seconded it.
Prior to the vote, council members debated the issue – after Burnet County Health Authority Dr. Juliette Madrigal made a presentation advocating for the continuation of the mayor's original mask order.
“Since last Monday we've had 182 new cases … (even though) [t]he state has us listed as a 135,” Madrigal said. “Before that we had 140 cases.
“The number of cases in Burnet County have skyrocketed,” she added. “Right now, we have five patients who are in the hospital ... from 14 to their early 90s.” She said there are five deaths with two of them pending being posted on the state website.
She explained that people who have died are “either older or underlying medical conditions.”
Rhodes questioned the reporting, effectiveness and philosophy of ordering people to wear something under threat of penalty.
“I don't want to sound morbid. People die every day. People die of the flu every year,” he said. “The numbers do not bear out that the numbers overall are worst than a flu season.
“I have no challenge with wearing a mask,” he added. “I have a real challenge with forcing people to wear a mask.”
Norman said, “How come we can't let businesses make this decision instead of big government.”
Magerkurth expressed concern about “the penalty when it's enforced.”
Packer said, “Our goal is to not penalize people and fine people. It's to protect people from each other. We probably can write you a citation and you go to the court.”
Emergency Operations Coordinator and Marble Falls Fire Rescue Chief Russell Sander stated the fine can be up to $500 for being non-compliant.
Burnet County resident Jeff Sellers argued private property rights and civil liberties are at stake. Spicewood resident Craig Cosgrove offered studies to dispute the efficacy of face coverings.
Local businesswoman Becca Shaffer asked to continue the mask order to consider “being a decent human being and caring for other people.”
City Attorney Patty Aker offered insight into exceptions to suspending civil liberties.
“Typically, when there's an emergency ... your rights are not absolute,” Akers said.
Had the mandatory face covering section been approved the only exceptions would have been:
a. when the person is alone in a separate single space, whether indoors or outdoors;
b. when the person is in the presence only of other members of the same householdor residence, whether indoors or outdoors;
c. when doing so poses a verified mental or physical health, safety or security risk;
d. when the person is outdoors engaging in an allowed activity while alone, or with only members of the same household or residence, or while maintaining aconsistent separation of six feet or more from others and engaging in conduct authorized and as allowed by Governor's Order GA-26 or subsequent executiveorder;
e. when the person is eating or drinking in a restaurant; or
f. the person is under the age of two; or
g. any person who is unable to remove a face covering without assistance.