BEAUMONT, Texas — Starting Wednesday, Jefferson County joins the ranks of several other Texas counties ordering business to requires masks for not only employees but customers as well. It comes as the state and region deals with an onslaught of record coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick tells 12News it was a difficult decision to make, but he says the county's increase in new COVID-19 cases as well as hospitalizations make it a necessary decision.
The order is expected to take effect at noon on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.
READ | CDC Face Mask Guidelines
Branick says the order will run through June 30 and businesses could face up to a $1,000 fine if they do not enforce the ordinance. Branick says his office will be evaluating the numbers over the next week and a decision on extending or letting the order expire will be made then.
Branick says that businesses should put up a sign that says they are requiring masks. He adds that businesses can be fined if they flaunt the fact that they are not wearing or enforcing the mask ordinance. Businesses are not required to give out masks to customers.
Businesses with outdoor areas are still required to enforce the ordinance, Branick said.
Jefferson County is the latest in Texas to issue a mask ordinance and it comes as the state surpasses 5,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day for the first time. It also follows six consecutive days of Texas seeing 3,000+ new cases.
Jefferson County reported its highest ever number of daily new cases on Monday at 40 positive COVID-19 cases followed Tuesday by 39 cases.
On the same day the county also recorded it's highest number of hospitalizations at 70 beds.
While the new order will be an adjustment for some, that's not the case for Danielle Sinegal, who says she puts up with the inconvenience of a mask to keep from getting the virus.
“Sometimes it's hard to breathe but just from the few people that I've known and that I've seen who have had COVID-19, I'll take the minor inconvenience over getting the disease,” Sinegal told 12News Monday afternoon at a testing site at the Beaumont Civic Center.
While testing has increased, officials are now keeping a close eye on how many people are ending up in the hospital. The number of available beds is decreasing by the day.
“This is something I didn't want to have to do,” Branick said, “It's something that I think is prudent under the circumstances."
Port Arthur Public Health Director Judith Smith says she believe the judge’s order could make a difference.
"Our idea has to change if we wanna get this under control,” she said Monday.
"We don't have a vaccine, so wearing the mask, doing the hand washing, staying home if you're sick, monitoring those symptoms that's all that we have. So we have to do what we can do so that the cases come down,” Smith said.
Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel says he won't make masks mandatory.
"Although I fully support Judge Branick’s tough decision today to issue a new Order compelling all businesses in Jefferson County to require employees and customers to wear masks, I do not feel that directive is necessary for Hardin County businesses at this time," McDaniel said. "I will continue to strongly encourage people who are unable to maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet to wear a facial covering (mask) without mandating that they do so. Any business in Hardin County who wishes to make it a policy that their employees and customers wear a mask, or refuse service to those who will not, may do so."
Orange County Judge John Gothia told 12News on Friday that he was not planning to make masks mandatory but is encouraging people wear them.
In Harris County, customers 10 years and older must wear masks, though individuals aren’t subject to any fines for not wearing one. Businesses, however, could face a $1,000 fine if they do not comply with an order there.
Bexar, Hidalgo and Dallas counties have all modified their mask mandates in a similar way.
The order comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said cities and counties could not impose penalties directly on citizens who do not wear a mask.
Local leaders across Texas have said they are working with the governor's office to stay within the guidelines of the state.