The Bell County Public Health District has been unequivocal about its stance on residents wearing masks.
“The Bell County Public Health District has consistently said that whenever social distancing is not possible people should wear masks to safeguard against the coronavirus,” Health District Director Amanda Robison-Chadwell said Monday. “Our recommendation stands.”
But that is simply a recommendation. Local officials are considering implementing a mandate on businesses that require their customers and staff to wear a mask while inside their facilities.
“I am in active discussions with local officials and stakeholders and anticipate a decision within the next few days,” Bell County Judge David Blackburn said Monday.
Temple Mayor Tim Davis said a masking mandate is under consideration.
“We, as mayors across the county, have let one voice speak for all of us, which would be the county judge, so that we all do the same thing,” Belton Mayor Marion Grayson said, referring to the county’s top elected official, Blackburn. “It has been noted that if you live in Belton, you may work in Temple where their rules might be different. We don’t want that.”
Davis echoed Grayson.
“It won’t be just Temple. If something is done, it will be countywide and we’ll make that decision based on the whole county, not just city by city,” the Temple mayor said.
Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra was more direct than his counterparts in Temple and Belton.
“I probably think it is a good idea. I am more in favor of doing it,” Segarra said of a masking requirement.
The mayor of Bell County’s largest city took it a step further: He vowed to impose the mandate if Blackburn doesn’t.
“If it doesn’t happen countywide, I would be in favor of it happening in Killeen since we are the biggest city in the county,” Segarra said, adding the county judge told him a masking requirement decision could come Tuesday. “If (Blackburn) does not make the decision, I am going to go ahead and do it for the city on Wednesday.”
County judges, mayors and city councils across the state have started calling for businesses to require masks. Bexar County imposed a mask rule last week after earning the blessing of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who had banned local governments from issuing fines on individuals who do not wear masks.
Most orders require face masks when people cannot stay 6 feet apart inside businesses. If a business does not enforce the requirement, it will be face a fine of up to $1,000.
Other counties that have imposed similar orders include Travis, Harris, Dallas, Hidalgo, Cameron, El Paso counties, according to the Texas Tribune. Hays County has issued a mask requirement, but it does not include a fine. Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said Monday he will not require masks until Abbott does so for the entire state, according to CBS Austin.
Some cities have imposed a masking requirement including Waco, Austin and the small, rural West Texas city of Marfa, population 1,714.
“Local governments can require stores and (businesses) to require masks. That’s what was authorized in my plan,” Abbott told a TV station, according to the Texas Tribune. “Businesses … they’ve always had the opportunity and the ability, just like they can require people to wear shoes and shirts, these businesses can require people to wear face masks if they come into their businesses. Now local officials are just now realizing that that was authorized.”
FME News Service contributed to this report.