Face masks required in most circumstances in Hays County

Hays County residents are now, for the most part, be required to wear face masks while out in public.

Exceptions include:

• When driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household

• While pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment

• When exercising outside or engaging in outdoor activity

• While in a building or activity that requires surveillance or screening like a bank or consuming food or drink.

County Judge Ruben Becerra issued his new order on the courthouse steps Thursday afternoon.

Since the pandemic began in March, instructions on how best to avoid infection have been a hodgepodge of orders from Gov. Greg Abbott and county and municipal governments statewide.

Abbott, while continuing to allow greater occupancy in businesses, has refused to institute a statewide mandate for mask wearing in public. Local governments have pushed back. Mayors of several large cities petitioned the governor last week to return them some local control. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an order anyway, instructing businesses to mandate employees and customers wear masks. Abbott let that stand.

Becerra’s order as issued on Thursday included a fine of $1,000 for businesses that did not comply; however, within hours his office issued a corrected statement. “Judge Becerra decided not to include that, instead giving our already-struggling local businesses the direction and allowing them the opportunity to comply without subjecting them to the possibility of fines,” the county’s Public Information Officer Kim Hilsenbeck said. “Compliance in that area could have been subject to interpretation, which was also a consideration.”

On Friday, Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler posted on social media that he is “concerned with the current rise in COVID cases in Hays County and would like to urge everyone to voluntarily comply” with Becerra’s order. He also “stands by his previous position that the order will not be enforced with any criminal or civil penalties” as per the governor’s order. “Deputies may speak with people about the benefits of wearing masks but will not be ordering people to do so.”

Cutler went on to say the “only time his deputies will get involved is when a business owner or employee has asked a customer to leave and the customer is refusing to do so.” At that point, he said, “we will get involved for a criminal trespass issue and not the requirements of social distancing or wearing of masks.”

Becerra ordered all the county’s commercial entities to “develop and implement a health and safety policy” that is posted in conspicuous locations. Business are also allowed to implement additional policies like temperature checks or health screenings.

Basic preventative measures include staying six feet apart and washing hands thoroughly and frequently, not touching one’s face, not overusing disposable masks and washing reusable masks frequently.

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