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City vs. State: Mayors Want Power to Require Mask Wearing to Slow Coronavirus Spread

Coronavirus cases are surging in the Lone Star State's urban areas, so mayors of nine of its largest cities asked Greg Abbott for the power to mandate the wearing of masks or facial coverings, prohibited by executive order, to slow viral spread.
June 21, 2020, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Gov. Greg Abbott encourages Texans to wear masks or facial masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which surged to its highest daily level, 3,500 on June 18, but he won't require them, as Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to do after daily cases for the first time exceeded 4,000 on June 17. But Abbott has gone further – he prevents cities and counties from requiring mask-wearing.

On June 16, nine big-city mayors: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen "urged Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter to grant them the 'authority to set rules and regulations' mandating face masks during the coronavirus pandemic," reports Valeria Olivares for The Texas Tribune.

The letter asks Abbott to consider allowing each city's local officials to decide whether to require the use of face coverings in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

On Tuesday, the state reported a record-breaking total of 2,518 patients hospitalized with the virus. The seven-day average of new cases has also reached new heights in recent days.

Research from Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich universities shows that wearing even homemade masks can dramatically reduce transmissions rates, reported The Washington Post on June 15.

“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” said Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge.

He said combining widespread mask use with social distancing and some lockdown measures could be “an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and reopening economic activity” before the development of an effective vaccine against covid-19.

A study published in Health Affairs on June 16 found that mask-wearing in the U.S. prevented more than 200,000 coronavirus infections between April 8 and May 15.

Businesses may require mask-wearing

Perhaps in a sign of a compromise, Olivares reports on June 17 that "Bexar and Hidalgo counties have imposed a new mask rule for local businesses, saying they must require employees and customers to wear masks when social distancing isn't possible.

The move appears to open a new way for local officials to require mask use in certain public spaces after Abbott stymied prior efforts by local officials to put the onus on residents." Other cities and counties are pursuing the same indirect path – putting the onus on businesses rather than residents.

Arizona governor relents

"In an abrupt about-face, Gov. Doug Ducey agreed Wednesday [June 17] to give city, town and county officials the power to enact and enforce requirements for people to wear masks," reports the Arizona Daily Star.

Ducey had previously insisted on a statewide policy encouraging but not requiring masks, even as state Health Director Cara Christ acknowledged last week that there are “hot spots” in Arizona where COVID-19 has spread quicker than elsewhere.

Thursday saw cases increase by over 2,500, "the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic, according to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services," according to AZ Business Magazine.

While coronavirus cases are increasing in 20 states according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker, the media has placed much attention on Arizona, Texas and Florida.

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Published on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 in The Texas Tribune
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