This story is developing and will continue to be updated.
Just one day after posting its highest single-day case count on record, Tarrant County officials said businesses must require customers to wear masks.
Business owners who don't follow the order or post the mask policy could face a fine up to $1,000, officials said.
The order goes into effect at 6 p.m. Friday and stays in effect until 6 a.m. Aug. 3.
Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter said he has been talking to business owners who told him they’ve been trying to do the right thing and have their employees wear masks, but it has become increasingly difficult.
"It’s become so politicized and become part of some culture war that I didn’t even know existed," he said.
Shetter said in several instances there have been employees who have been accosted and berated by customers.
In one example, Shatter said a teenage employee told a business owner he "couldn't do it anymore" after dealing with angry customers, even though the teen said he knew wearing a mask is the right thing to do.
In addition to requiring the masks at businesses, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley urged people to wear masks whenever they leave home.
"If you leave home, put on a mask," Whitley said. "If it gets much better we could always pull these restrictions down."
The county reported 517 new coronavirus cases Thursday.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price joined Thursday's new conference remotely because she is currently self-isolating at home after coming into contact with someone with COVID-19.
"We tried voluntary compliance but folks we just weren’t seeing it, we need your help, we need you to follow these orders, we need you to mask up,” she said.
Dr. Susan Bailey, President of the American Medical Association, also stressed the importance of wearing a mask.
"This needs to be about science and research, not emotion and politics," she said.
The move comes just over a week after the judge and the Fort Worth mayor said they would not be issuing orders about masks.
But counties across Texas, including Tarrant, have seen surges in new cases and hospitalizations. On Wednesday, Tarrant County posted its highest single-day total on record and the highest number for a North Texas county – 460 new cases.
"We have to fight this virus, it isn't gone," Whitley said.
The Tarrant County health director said the increase in COVID-19 cases is likely connected to the reopening of businesses.
"We’re increasing testing and the positivity rate is increasing, meaning there are actually more people out there getting the disease. So that’s a concerning trend," Vinny Taneja said.
"Wear the mask. Yes, it’s inconvenient, none of us like wearing a mask. But if we can save a life by wearing a mask and not take it home to one of our relatives then what’s that worth. Is it worth a little inconvenience?” Whitley said.
Dr. Robert Rogers, a representative for the Tarrant County Medical Society, said wearing a mask is one of the most effective tools to suppress the transmission of the disease.
"There's been a lot of controversy over this but the scientific data is clear. If we all wear masks we prevent infection from going to one person to another," Rogers said.
Last Friday, Dallas County commissioners voted 3-2 to pass a similar mask order.
Several mayors and doctors were in attendance at Thursday's news conference, supporting Whitley's order to mandate masks across Tarrant County.
That order went into effect Saturday. Under the order, businesses can be fined $500 for not having signage posted or a plan for enforcing the use of face coverings.
A number of other counties across Texas have already issued similar orders, including:
- Fort Bend
- Jim Hogg
- Jim Wells
The full Tarrant County order:
Watch the full announcement:
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