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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tarrant County announces mask mandate to slow growing COVID-19 spread

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Tarrant County has tightened the restrictions to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

In a news conference today, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley signed a second amended disaster declaration that goes into effect at 6 p.m. Friday and currently runs until 6 p.m. Aug. 3.

The new declaration follows a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the county as well as other areas in Texas.

The new declaration calls for businesses to require customers to wear masks.

“In just the last two weeks, we have seen a 52% increase in the number of cases,” said Whitley.

 “We cannot stress enough that Tarrant County residents practice social distancing where you stay at least 6 feet away from other individuals,” Whitley said. “You need to have sufficient space to have people be at least 6 feet apart. To whatever degree possible, we would encourage you to have sign-in logs to keep track of everyone you have come in contact with.”

Whitley noted that he has been in discussions with other elected leaders and the medical community before taking the action. He has also talked to business leaders. “It’s funny, several of them, they said, ‘Please, please, put this order in place so that when someone does come into my establishment, I can say, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to wear a mask if you come in.”’”

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Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association and a local allergist, said she has been speaking to physicians all over the country since becoming president of the organization.

“[I’ve been] preaching this message: Wear a mask, stay home if you can, stay six feet apart if you can, and keep your hands clean.”

 Some people, she noted, have said the medical community has issued some conflicting messages on wearing a mask. “Early on, we did not realize that there were a lot of people walking around that had COVID-19 that were spreading it to others and had no idea they were sick,” she said. “And when we realized that, we changed our recommendations and said, ‘You know, it’s best if everybody start wearing a mask.’ And now we have even more research and science to show us that wearing a mask in public, washing your hands, and keeping your distance, is truly effective at stopping the spread.

“I think it’s important to remember that back to business doesn’t mean business as usual. We’re going to have to do things differently for a while until we get this very deadly disease under control. So, wear your masks, we support that entirely,” she said.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, isolating at home, noted this was not a step anyone wanted to make.

“We want to be clear, the mayors, the doctors, no one wants to overburden businesses that are barely hanging on,” she said. “No one wants to inconvenience our citizens, but we also want everybody to be able to go back to school in the fall, back to some semblance of normal, no matter how you define normal as fall begins to come.”

Price said area leaders have been watching as the cases of COVID-19 have climbed.

“We’ve been struggling, watching our cases climb. We tried a voluntary compliance campaign, and folks, we just weren’t seeing it. We were getting much lower acceptance here in Fort Worth and in Tarrant County,” she said.

Price said the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce along with other organizations will make masks available so businesses will have some on hand.

“We know masks in the Texas heat, as we head into July and August, they’re not comfortable, but you get used to them pretty quick, and you really are going to have to wear them if we’re to get our economy back open,” she said. “This order won’t last forever, we hope, and we can turn the curve on this. So, I’m asking all of you to do your part. Stay healthy and you all mask up. It’s critical for us.”

In a statement, Price said: “Fort Worth is unfortunately seeing a daily increase in positive cases throughout our community as well as an increase in hospital admissions, demonstrating an increase in our rate of transmission.

“As we continue our efforts to fight COVID-19, and in a continued effort to protect our residents and neighbors, Fort Worth and Tarrant County are enacting a mask order. The order is effective Friday, June 26 through August 3 and mandates that businesses require employees and customers to wear face coverings. While I never want to place unnecessary burdens on the backs of our businesses, especially as they are already struggling due to COVID-19, the reality is our cases are trending in the wrong direction and in order to keep Fort Worth open – masks are required.”

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday halted elective surgeries in Texas’ biggest counties – though not in Tarrant County – and said the state would “pause” its aggressive re-opening as it deals with a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations that has made it one of the nation’s virus hotspots.

The suspension of elective surgeries is designed to protect hospital space in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio areas. Statewide, the number of COVID-19 patients has more than doubled in two weeks. Texas has reported more than 11,000 new cases in the previous two days alone.

The pause on further re-openings does not roll back previous orders that already allowed much of the economy to reopen. But it would appear to slow down any planned expansion of occupancy levels at places like bars, restaurants and amusement parks and other venues.

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