Coronavirus

Turner and Other Texas Mayors Ask Gov. Abbott to Let Them Require Mask-Wearing

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sported a facemask as part of a local public health initiative to encourage mask-wearing in the city.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sported a facemask as part of a local public health initiative to encourage mask-wearing in the city. Artwork by City of Houston

Late Tuesday afternoon, a coalition of nine Texan mayors politely demanded that Gov. Greg Abbott allow them to make rules to enforce wearing facemasks in their cities to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The request came via a letter to the statehouse signed by nine Texan mayors, including the chief executives of Texas’s largest cities: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and Austin Mayor Steve Adler. The letter was made public just hours after Abbott held a press conference in which he downplayed the spike in Texas COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations since Memorial Day as “no reason to be alarmed” due to the state’s overall hospital capacity.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas hit a record-high of 2,518 on Tuesday, which represents a nearly 67 percent increase since Memorial Day. Statewide positive case counts have trended up sharply over that same period.

Other mayors who signed on to the letter include Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen.

In their letter, the mayors correctly explain that widespread use of facemasks in public “could prove to be the most effective way to prevent the transmission of this disease.”

“Yet many people in many of our cities are still refusing to wear these face coverings,” the letter continued, “even though these coverings are scientifically proven to help prevent the disease from spreading.”

“We think you would agree that a healthy economy starts with healthy people. If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide, we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced,” the letter read.

Early in the pandemic, local government officials like mayors and county judges across the state were able to implement broad public health-minded rules and regulations designed to slow COVID-19’s spread throughout their cities, including stay-at-home orders and facemask mandates for residents in public places. But as of May 1, Abbott’s statewide reopening orders superseded those local regulations and took away local authority to implement enforceable measures in response to COVID-19.

The nine mayors who signed this letter represent both major political parties. Although the position of mayor is nonpartisan in many of their locales, based on their previously held elected positions, four of the mayors are Democrats (Turner, Nirenberg, Johnson and Adler) and four are Republicans (Price, Margo, Williams and LaRosiliere). Roy Jensen, Grand Prairie Mayor Roy Jensen hasn’t previously held elected office under the banner of either party.

The full text of the letter is embedded below.
In this letter to Gov. Abbott, nine Texas mayors, including Houston's Mayor Turner, requested to be given the authority to mandate mask-wearing in public in their cities.
Sylvester Turner, Ron Nirenberg, Steve Adler, Eric Johnson, Betsy Price, Dee Margo, Jeff Williams, Harry LaRosiliere and Ron Jensen
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Schaefer Edwards is a staff writer at the Houston Press who covers local and regional news. A lifelong Texan and adopted Houstonian, he loves NBA basketball and devouring Tex-Mex while his cat watches in envy.
Contact: Schaefer Edwards