SAN ANTONIO – Amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg announced the return of mask requirements to Bexar County on Wednesday.
Wolff issued a new executive order mandating “all commercial entities providing goods and services” must implement a health and safety policy within five days. The policy “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,” according to the new order.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued an addendum to his latest declaration of public health emergency that adopts and supports Wolff’s order.
Businesses who fail to follow the order can be fined by $1,000. Though individuals are also required to wear masks, they will not face any punishment if they don’t. Wolff’s order is in effect until June 30.
There was a question at first over whether Gov. Greg Abbott, who previously ordered that “no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering,” would push back against the approach.
“The action I’m taking today may be pushing the legal bounds a little bit but our attorneys believe they can defend this order in court,” Wolff said.
If the issue ends up in court, it does not appear it will be at the behest of the governor. Abbott spokesman John Wittman said Wednesday Wolff’s new order “is not inconsistent with the Governor’s executive order.”
During a press conference on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott chastised county judges who asked him for the authority to mandate face coverings. He mentioned that county judges can implement fines for other strategies, like stricter enforcement on large gatherings.
While businesses who fail to follow the order will face a fine facing up to $1,000, Nirenberg praised most of the businesses who have been taking mitigations efforts seriously.
“Many business, thousands of them, have already signed the Greater SA pledge,” Nirenberg said. “I want to thank community for all the work we’ve done together to keep San Antonio a safe place but let’s all be clear. This virus is out there. We’re not done with it and it’s not done with us.”
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said deputies would be instructed to “take every means possible before issuing a citation.” They would issue warnings first, he said, and supervisors would be dispatched to speak with management before any citations are issued.
“We’re not trying to issue a whole bunch of fines, we’re just trying to get people to help keep our community safe,” Salazar said.
Businesses have until Monday to post their health and safety policy, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said.