For now, Denton County plans to rely on voluntary best practices over mandates when it comes to the use of face coverings in public.
Tuesday, County Judge Andy Eads and the county commissioners said while they have no plans to implement a county-wide mandate on face coverings in public they are strongly encouraging residents to wear them.
Several residents have called for a mandate to help protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eads said the biggest challenge in issuing a mask mandate is enforcing it.
John Feldt, the county attorney, pointed out that the governor’s latest order prohibits counties or municipalities from imposing civil or criminal penalties for not wearing a mask.
“How do we enforce something that’s unenforceable?” Eads said.
“We need to focus on the things we can do, which is an aggressive marketing campaign to get people to do the right thing,” Eads said, adding that social distancing is just as important.
Commissioners said wearing a mask in public is the right thing to do.
“I would recommend you to wear a mask, but I cannot require you to wear it because of your own personal liberty,” said Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell. “And if we decide that we’re going to mandate the mask, we would have all of these exclusions, and we’re right back to where we began. Because everyone can come up with an exclusion on why they can’t wear a mask.”
The discussion comes as the county continues to see rising numbers of COVID-19 cases compared to a few weeks ago.
The number of positive cases in the county began rising sharply in early June. On June 7 there were 14 new cases reported for a total of 1,500 cases. That number grew to 40 on June 10 and 82 on June 17.
The county reported its highest total on June 24 with 115 new cases. There were 105 new cases reported Tuesday.
Residents have shared different views on the matter.
Delia Parker-Mims, who is running against Mitchell in the county commissioner Precinct 3 election in November, said the county should impose a mask mandate.
““A slower spread helps the economy since complete re-openings will occur sooner,” Parker-Mims said in a press release.
Another resident posted on Facebook, “If you don’t wear a mask and get me sick, I think that’s an infringement on my liberty. Mandate masks until we have a vaccine or effective treatment.”
Other residents are against it.
“Do not force citizens to wear masks,” stated one commenter on Facebook. “It is our choice not the government’s or anyone else’s.”
Earlier in the week Eads said county officials continue to monitor the number of positive COVID-19 cases, as well as the hospital capacity in the area.
When asked what data or event would prompt the Commissioners Court to require facial coverings, he said there are multiple factors involved.
“We’re looking at a variety of data points,” Eads said, “such as hospital utilization, overall capacity of the hospital system in DFW, the population infected and the age points. So it’s not just one indicator. COVID-19 has changed over time, and conventional wisdom has changed. It’s a fluid topic.”
Meanwhile other entities have issued face mask mandates. Tarrant County Judge B. Glen Whitley issued an order that requires coverings to be worn in all Tarrant County businesses and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins mandated that businesses require employees and customers to wear a face covering when inside their business.
The city of Denton recently enacted a face mask mandate, too.
So why does Denton County feel like a mandate isn’t enforceable?
Matt Shovlin, assistant district attorney in the civil division in Denton County, said while businesses are required to have a health and safety plan in place, he’s not convinced a face mask mandate would be in line with that.
“I’d be interested to see how well these jurisdictions that have these mandates in place are able to enforce them,” Shovlin said.
Eads stressed that individual behavior is important in reversing the trend.
“The Commissioners Court is asking everyone to adopt social distancing best practices in their daily lives,” Eads said. “Not just when they’re conducting commerce in public. We ask that they worship responsibly, and we ask that they adopt social distancing guidelines in dealing with friends and family members who are outside of their household. This is a temporary lifestyle adjustment.”