Fort Bend County Judge KP George’s latest effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus by ordering county businesses to enforce mask use got a helpful boost on Tuesday.
In a special session, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to extend George’s face mask order for businesses and the county’s COVID-19 disaster declaration through the end of July.
The party-line vote saw Republican Commissioners Andy Meyers and Vincent Morales oppose the extension, while George was joined by Democratic Commissioners Grady Prestage and Ken Demerchant in support of lengthening the order.
Originally issued on June 23, Fort Bend County’s mask order requires county businesses to enforce the use of face masks by employees and all customers 10 years of age and older, and is virtually identical to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order for her county. The main difference between the two is that the Fort Bend County order only threatens businesses who don’t comply with a fine of up to $500, half the potential fee Harris County businesses face.
Tuesday was a busy day for county governments in southeast Texas. The Harris County Commissioners Court also voted 3-2 along party lines in favor of extending their disaster declaration and mask mandate for businesses, in their case all the way through August 26.
“As I have always said, our decisions will be based on data, science, and community input,” George said on Tuesday, “which is why we are extending this Mask Up Order until July 31. We are all in this together and if we continue doing our part, we will succeed in beating the coronavirus without the Governor of Texas forcing lockdowns or other extreme measures.”
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On June 23, George said his decision to issue the mask order was based on the "exponential growth" of COVID-19 in his county. The Fort Bend County Health and Human Services Department reported 60 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and one additional fatality, which raised the county's COVID-19 death tally to 54.
“Universal masking is probably one of the only chances we have to reopen and not put peoples’ lives at risk,” said Dr. Sapna Singh of the Fort Bend Medical Society in Tuesday’s meeting. He later called widespread mask use “the lowest cost-effective measure we have” to reopen the economy as safely as possible.
Several other members of the public spoke in favor of extending George’s mask order during Tuesday’s special session, including H-E-B President Scott McClelland, who said he supported the extension because his “primary goal is to keep my employees and our customers safe.”
“We have an opportunity here to choose life,” said McClelland, warning that leaders who didn’t heed that call “will be deemed by history harshly” for their failure to do so.