People will have to wear face coverings in businesses through the summer after the Galveston City Council voted Thursday to extend a masking rule to the end of September.
It’s one of the few tools the state has left for cities struggling to contain a surge of coronavirus cases, proponents of the rule said.
Council members worried about placing the onus of enforcement on businesses, however.
The measure requires business operators to implement policies requiring all customers and employees to wear face masks.
Mayor Jim Yarbrough issued the order Monday, but it would have expired June 30 without council approval to continue it.
Now, the order is in effect through Sept. 30. Extending the order passed on a 5-2 vote with District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle and District 5 Councilman John Paul Listowski voting against.
Sunday will be the first day businesses can be cited for disobeying the rule. Yarbrough’s order gave businesses until then to implement the policy before being subject to fines of as much as $1,000.
The point of the order is to reduce the spread of coronavirus as much as possible, Yarbrough said.
“We have restrictions on people all the time primarily for their safety,” Yarbrough said. “If people could go get the disease and never spread it, I wouldn’t give a darn what they did.”
People haven’t been complying with recommendations to social distance and wear masks, and many visitors on the island aren’t taking the virus seriously, District 3 Councilman David Collins said.
“As a matter of self-defense, we need to put an ordinance in place ourselves so people don’t think this is a free-fire zone,” Collins said.
But Hardcastle didn’t think having the mask order in place would make a significant difference, he said.
“I don’t think it’s our job to be disciplinarians,” Hardcastle said.
Contrary to what city officials said when the mayor issued the order, it applies only to commercial businesses that deliver goods or services to the public, City Attorney Don Glywasky said.
It does not apply to nonprofits and other noncommercial operations that serve the public.
“They have a duty to write a policy that says their customers are going to be required to wear a mask,” Glywasky said. “The city will be looking for shop owners to write a policy and make a good faith effort.”
Businesses that don’t create and enforce a mask policy will be subject to the fines, according to the order.
Such orders have sprung up across Texas this week after Bexar County, the home of San Antonio, issued an order mandating that businesses require masks.
Other cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston followed suit after Gov. Greg Abbott said the rule didn’t conflict with his June 3 ban on local governments requiring people to wear face masks and fining violators.
That’s why the fines in the Galveston rule are directed at the business, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
“The governor won’t allow us to fine an individual,” Maxwell said.
As when people violate other store policies, operators can call the police to have people blatantly violating their mask rules removed, Maxwell said.
The city council plans to revisit the order in July and make a decision about whether the rule is still necessary.
Also Thursday, the city council extended its emergency status orders through Sept. 30, which gives the city access to federal money and allows the mayor to issue emergency orders.
Thursday’s meeting was Yarbrough’s last after six years as mayor.
Yarbrough announced earlier this month he would step down from the position July 15, citing concerns about his health as the state was moving toward reopening.