Friday morning was the last straw for Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters.
Hours after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new series of shutdowns because of the coronavirus, Masters issued an emergency order, requiring Dickinson business operators to require their staff and customers to wear face masks indoors.
In doing so, Dickinson became the second city in Galveston County to issue a mask order and back it up with potential fines for businesses that don’t enforce the city’s rule.
“It’s just about the increase we’ve seen and public safety,” Masters said. “I was hoping that the businesses would self-police themselves and require the things, but apparently that’s not happening.”
Dickinson’s mandatory mask order goes into effect Sunday. Businesses that don’t create and enforce a masking policy could be fined $1,000 for every unmasked person inside their premises, according to the policy.
The city of Galveston was the first in the county to require people to wear masks inside businesses. Mayor Jim Yarbrough’s order went into effect Tuesday and on Thursday was ratified and extended into September by the Galveston City Council.
Masters’ order will expire after seven days if it’s not ratified by the Dickinson City Council next week, she said.
In making an official order, Masters broke away from most other leaders in the county — who have stuck with appealing to their citizens’ consciences to get them to wear masks, without threatening to penalize business operators.
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry announced June 21 he would not issue a face mask order and has not publicly addressed the issue since. Henry’s office confirmed Friday he did not intend to issue a countywide mask order.
League City Mayor Pat Hallisey on Friday morning said he had been considering what kind of new city rules he could implement.
He noted, however, he could not make the kind of short-term emergency rules that Yarbrough and Masters had called because League City, the county’s most populated city and the one with the most overall cases, is no longer under an official disaster declaration.
The League City Council declined to extend the city’s COVID-related disaster declaration in April, meaning any new mandated precautions would require the city council to vote for new rules, Hallisey said.
Other leaders said they were keeping with a strategy of asking for mask compliance while acknowledging that they are planning what to do in case they need to make the recommendation stronger.
Last Saturday, La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking issued a proclamation asking people to wear face coverings in public places. La Marque’s proclamation, unlike Galveston’s, did not include the potential of fines for businesses or individuals.
Even without an order, more people appear to wear masks in the city, City Manager Charles “Tink” Jackson said. There is some worry that if the city upgrades its mask proclamation to a mask order, it will lead to more conflict, fights and disagreements rather than compliance, Jackson said.
“You can’t say or do anything today without causing a protest,” Jackson said. “We have become so contentious as a society, you can’t do anything without someone, somewhere having a fit about it. We’re kind of trying not to be part of the turmoil.”
After issuing the proclamation, the city’s code enforcement officers hand-delivered copies of it to more than 300 businesses, Jackson said. The city also supplied businesses with a stater pack of masks for staff and customers, Jackson said.
Still, the city has drafted versions of a mandatory order that could be issued if the local situation changes.
‘THIS IS A SCARY DEAL’
In Texas City, Mayor Matt Doyle on Thursday broadcast a video appeal to residents asking them to take the last increase in COVID-19 cases seriously. Throughout the pandemic, Texas City has had among the most cases per capita in Galveston County. From June 19 to June 25, 124 new cases were reported in the city, bringing the citywide total to 471 people.
In April and May, that status was because of a high number of cases in Texas City nursing homes, Doyle said. But that is not the case now.
Since the beginning of May, the reported number of COVID-19 cases at the city’s long-term care facilities — in older county residents — has remained mostly unchanged, while the rise in cases in younger age groups has risen sharply.
After posting his warning video, one woman accused Doyle of trying to scare people about the virus.
“Yes ma’am, we are,” Doyle said. “Because this is a scary deal. We’ll end up passing an ordinance if we have to, if people don’t comply.”
Shortly after signing Dickinson’s order, Masters said she called Hallisey and Doyle and urged them to make stricter rules in their cities — because although people will be required to wear masks inside Dickinson, they still won’t be when they leave the city to shop or eat or work.
“I need your help,” Masters said she told her fellow mayors. “Most of my citizens shop in Texas City and League City. They go to the restaurants there. They have so much more retail opportunities than we do. That’s what's hard if they’re not requiring it. I have a lot more of my citizens going into their communities than they have coming into mine.”