The Great Mask Controversy of 2020

To Mask or Not to Mask?

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

CROCKETT – To mask or not to mask appears to be the question of the year, so far in 2020. On Thursday, July 3 Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-29 in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

The order states “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.”

Had the order stopped there, it would seem to be fairly cut and dry. The order, however, was sprinkled with little caveats about when a mask was not required. These included:

  • Any person younger than 10 years of age.
  • Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.
  • Any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink.
  • Any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household.
  • Any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver.
  • Any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal;
  • Any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water.
  • Any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.
  • Any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.
  • Any person while the person is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience.
  • Any person in a county (a) that meets the requisite criteria promulgated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) regarding minimal cases of COVID-19, and (b) whose county judge has affirmatively opted-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face-covering attestation form—provided, however, that wearing a face covering is highly recommended, and every county is strongly encouraged to follow these face-covering standards.

The order also carries very little enforcement power in it and states, “Following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of this face covering requirement, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation. Local law enforcement and other local officials, as appropriate, can and should enforce this executive order, Executive Order GA-28, and other effective executive orders, as well as local restrictions that are consistent with this executive order and other effective executive orders.”

It also appears to give local jurisdictions the option of NOT enforcing the order. Notice the word “should” as opposed to the word “shall.”

Furthermore, the order goes on to state, “This executive order hereby prohibits confinement in jail as a penalty for the violation of any face-covering order by any jurisdiction.”

As a result of the issuance of GA-29 with no real enforcement power, Crockett Police Chief Clayton Smith released the following statement on Monday, July 6 about what the Crockett Police can and cannot do when it comes to wearing a mask.

The statement reads: “Executive Order GA-29, issued by the office of the Governor on July 2, 2020 imposes requirements for face-covering equipment. The order also prohibits the Crockett Police Department from detaining, arresting or confining in jail any person for violation of the order or any related non-violent, non-felony offense that is predicated on a violation of the order. However, the order does permit the Crockett Police Department to enforce trespassing laws and remove violators at the request of a business establishment or other property owner.”

The CPD statement went on to say, “Calls for service reporting violations of GA-29 will ONLY be dispatched if the reporter is a supervisory or management representative of the business or property and is reporting that a person is refusing to leave the property after receiving notice to leave and a disturbance is occurring. Crockett Police Officers that arrive at these calls will follow normal protocols. Any business or property owner has the right to implement any procedures and or protocols that they feel necessary.”

“As you all are aware,” Smith added, “we are in a public health crisis. The Crockett Police Department will respect and protect individual’s liberties. Let’s come together to ensure Crockett, Texas remains a safe place to live and work. We encourage everyone to take reasonable precautions in their own life to limit possible exposure by practicing Health Department guidelines.” 

So, once again, we are presented with a conundrum. To mask or not to mask? That truly is a question.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

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