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A timeline on the ever-changing guidelines on face masks during COVID-19 pandemic

A history of the rules regarding masks in Bexar County and Texas

Health care workers wearing scrubs and face masks watch as protesters hold an "Open Texas" rally at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, April 25, 2020, in Austin, Texas.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Health care workers wearing scrubs and face masks watch as protesters hold an "Open Texas" rally at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, April 25, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – To wear a mask or not wear a mask, that is the question.

At least it is for many in San Antonio and around the state of Texas as rules regarding face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic have changed multiple times in recent months.

If you’ve had a hard time keeping up, it’s understandable.

Here’s a timeline for face-covering rules in San Antonio, Bexar County and Texas:

  • In late March, Gov. Abbott said, “Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I as governor have implemented in the state of Texas,” and allowed for fines of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to 180 days or both for violations.
  • The San Antonio mayor’s office first issued an advisory on April 8 recommending that everyone over the age of 5 wear a cloth face covering.
  • On April 20, new San Antonio and Bexar County orders made face coverings mandatory with fines for violators of up to $1,000.
  • On April 27, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order that stated: “Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”
  • The city and county orders that followed on April 30 stated that “all people 10 years or older must wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when in public places” but there were no fines attached, to fall in line with Abbott’s orders.
  • On May 12, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg that said the local orders exceeded what was lawfully allowed and said local orders could “encourage” face coverings, but could not “require” them.
  • Bexar County’s executive orders that followed on May 19, and the latest on June 4, have stated: “All people 10 years old or older are strongly encouraged to wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth when in a public place.”
  • On June 12, Wolff asked Gov. Abbott to issue a new executive order that would allow local jurisdictions to determine if mandatory face coverings are needed due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
  • Abbott refused the county judge’s request on June 13 saying in part, “Judge Wolff and I have a philosophical difference. He believes in government mandates, and I believe in individual responsibility.”
  • On June 16, Nirenberg and eight other Texas mayors signed a letter addressed to Abbott urging the governor to allow city leaders to require face coverings at a local level as the state faces a second wave of COVID-19.
  • On June 17, Wolff and Nirenberg announced a new executive order mandating that “all commercial entities providing goods and services” must implement a health and safety policy within five days that “must require, at a minimum, that all employees or visitors ... wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involved close contact.” Because its businesses and not individuals who would face fines for not following the order, Wolff said city and county attorneys believe they can defend the order in court.

The debate over face coverings isn’t exclusive to the Lone Star State. There has been mixed messaging over masks since the new coronavirus first reached the United States.

In February and March, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization said the general public should not wear masks. In part, the messaging was designed to keep people from hoarding medical masks that were desperately needed for health care workers. But, there was also confusion about whether masks could prevent the spread of the virus.

In late February, the U.S. Surgeon General told people in a Twitter post not to buy masks and said masks weren’t an effective way to prevent getting the new coronavirus.

By early April, health and government officials seemed to be on the same page for a bit, recommending that people wear cloth coverings over their face and mouth -- not necessarily because it was an effective way to protect the wearer from getting COVID-19, but because the wearer could have the virus without knowing it yet, and wearing a mask could protect other people.

That’s when San Antonio and Bexar County leaders first recommended face coverings and then mandated them, until Texas Governor Greg Abbott said mask mandates weren’t allowed.

Since then, the masks have come off for many along with the proverbial gloves when it comes to the subject. Masks have become a political hotbutton issue with some invoking Abbott’s name.

Abbott though is urging people to wear them not because they’re required to do so but because it’s the Texan and neighborly thing to do, according to his PSA campaign with celebrities and sports stars.

And the U.S. surgeon general is now telling people that masks not only help stop the virus from spreading but they are the key to increasing freedom during the pandemic.

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