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EDITORIAL: Abbott to the rescue with statewide mask order

EDITORIAL: Abbott to the rescue with statewide mask order

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One can passionately debate whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Thursday afternoon executive order requiring Texans to wear face coverings in public comes too late amid skyrocketing COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. At least the governor grasps grim realities on the eve of the long Fourth of July weekend. While some Texans might fault the governor’s precipitous reopening of the Texas economy weeks ago, some of us should also remember who else is to blame: some of our neighbors, co-workers and family members who went out in public unmasked and arguably helped spread viral contagions in a pandemic.

While earlier executive orders issued by counties and cities (and with the governor’s blessing) require businesses to mandate face coverings or masks of both employees and customers in commercial settings when physical distancing is impossible, the governor’s latest order commendably goes further, placing the burden on residents rather than businesses, which seemed to be a concern to hesitant McLennan County Commissioners this week. The governor says first-time offenders will receive warnings; should they continue to violate this public safety measure, they risk fines of up to $250.

There’s logic in all this: The price of a vigorous economy where people feel safe enough to shop and safe enough to work is at the very least face coverings. And now almost all Texans will live under the same rules statewide rather than some hodgepodge of regulations. This measure also works to prevent overwhelming Texas hospitals with more COVID-19 patients, a major concern of city and medical leaders. “Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s the same refrain Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver stressed this week in justifying the city’s executive order, one which he touted as “pro-business.”

The governor’s order comes just as cracks began to develop in local resolve in battling the pandemic, which Thursday produced 224 new cases in McLennan County, making for 1,015 active cases and a total of nine deaths. In explaining their decision to strongly recommend masks but not to impose fines, county commissioners at one point rationalized that most of the county was already under city orders mandating mask-wearing. The dubious reasoning: Why make such safety measures countywide?

With political forces far and wide aggravating efforts to quell SARS-CoV-2, rumors and misinformation are rampant and lesser public servants tremble in fear of offending self-styled patriots who insist on their “right” not to wear masks (which Baylor Law School professor Ron Beal made short work of in a Wednesday Trib column). Someone even alleged at last week’s Waco City Council meeting that physical distancing and the wearing of masks have contributed to a rise of COVID-19 cases. One Trib reader accused county officials — in balking at a public safety measure as rigorous as those in Waco, Woodway, Hewitt and Mart — of declining to be tougher because it might hinder their ability to generate tax revenue for county coffers. (Ironically, Waco Mayor Deaver says he’s faced allegations that the city’s mask-wearing ordinance, complete with $1,000 fines, was enacted to raise revenue for city coffers through such fines, which he dismisses as nonsense.)

This much we can celebrate for the moment: Dr. Jackson Griggs’ robust public appeal to local residents to pass up any holiday gatherings this weekend just got a big boost from an unexpected source: Gov. Abbott. All should heed.

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