Coronavirus

An order mandating Bell County businesses require all customers and staff on their premises to wear a mask goes into effect early Monday.

Bell County Judge David Blackburn called for the mask order Wednesday during an online news conference from the Bell County Courthouse in Belton. It went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday and will continue through at least 11:59 p.m. July 13 — unless it is extended by the county judge or Commissioners Court.

Breaking the order could result in a business facing a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. Local law enforcement agencies will carry out the order. Residents will be able to report violations to a hotline by calling 254-933-5203.

“This directive is intended to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community. The directive is intended to help stem the trend lines we are now seeing in the number of new cases in Bell County and to help us maintain our hospital capacity,” Blackburn said.

COVID-19 cases in the county broke through the 1,000 mark Friday. At least 1,022 cases have been reported. In June, 669 cases have been reported. That is 65 percent of all confirmed cases in Bell County.

The county’s order requires businesses to post their health and safety policy in a highly visible spot for all employees, visitors or volunteers to read. Businesses can go further than what Bell County is requiring and include health screenings and temperature checks.

Bell County residents do not need to wear a mask while exercising outside; driving alone or with passengers from the same household; pumping gas; inside a building that requires security surveillance, such as banks; or when eating food or drinking.

“I know it wasn’t an easy decision, and in many cases — based on the feedback I’ve received from citizens of Temple — it’s not a popular decision,” Temple Mayor Tim Davis said. “But again I think it is important that we as a county work hard toward keeping everyone safe, keeping everyone healthy both for the exchange of commerce but also just taking care of each other.”

Local business owners have also expressed support for the masking requirement because many fear if another shutdown is ordered their store may not survive.

“I think it is probably a good thing,” said Alma “Jo” Johnson, owner of Pieces By Jo, 13 S. Second St. in Temple. “We are going to have to do something or we are going to have to close down again. We have to do what we can do to protect everyone.”

Amy Young — the co-owner of the Shoppes on Main, 22 N. Main St. in Salado — wants to avoid another shutdown.

“I think I’d rather have people wear a mask than have to shut down my business again. That’s the main thing,” Young said. “I don’t think a lot of us small businesses can afford to shut down, so if it means we can stay open and hopefully still have the support, especially with the locals. I think we should support it.”