The subject of face coverings has been a contentious one in Kerrville and Kerr County in recent days. This article will address the local government response to masks and orders requiring persons to wear masks. We will also debunk some common misconceptions about masks, along with providing some peer-reviewed information about their effectiveness.
Putting this matter in context, last week Governor Greg Abbott issued an order closing all bars at noon on Friday the 26th, and reduced restaurant capacity to 50% starting on Monday (although Kerrville’s limit will remain at 75% for restaurants based on Kerrville’s performance with the DSHS guidelines). The order also banned river rafting trips, and banned outdoor gatherings of over 100 people unless local officials explicitly approve such gatherings.
Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) have spiked in Texas and in Kerr County over the past week. Statewide, Texas reported over 5,000 new cases of coronavirus each day since Tuesday, and nearly 2,300 Texans have died from the virus this year. Kerr County has had a total of 73 positive cases as of Saturday afternoon.
Residents of Bexar County received an alert on their mobile devices on Saturday urging them to stay home except for essential activities. Nearly 800 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Bexar County on Saturday, prompting the “red alert.”
Commissioners Court to debate mandatory masks on Monday morning
Kerr County Commissioners Court has called for a public debate on the issue of mandatory masks, and has invited residents to call in during Monday morning’s meeting that begins at 9:00 AM. The meeting room will be restricted, but the meeting can be viewed on the county’s YouTube channel and those wishing to comment may do so by dialing 830-792-6161 on Monday morning.
County governments cannot impose a mask mandate on the general public, but can require businesses to make masks compulsory. Governor Abbott stated:
Government cannot require individuals to wear masks. Local governments can require stores and business to require masks. That’s what was authorized in my plan.
In Bexar County, Judge Nelson Wolff ordered businesses to require employees and customers to wear face masks when social distancing is not possible. The judge got into an altercation with a customer while at Lowe’s in San Antonio when a man not wearing a mask knocked a business card from Wolff’s hand. The man has been charged with misdemeanor assault.
Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn urges businesses to require masks
The City of Kerrville’s press release issued on Friday encouraged residents to follow state guidelines including wearing a face mask, washing hands, and avoiding groups. The press release also discouraged travel outside of the county if at all possible.
While stopping short of calling for a legal mandate, Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn urged the public and businesses to wear masks when out and about. In a Facebook post on Thursday, the mayor stated:
I am calling on businesses to require masks for their employees and that they encourage customers to use masks. If you enter a business and the employees are not using masks, then take your business somewhere else.
Debunking myths about masks
Rumors and falsehoods about masks have spread on social media in Kerrville and around the country. Here are some common misconceptions that we can debunk, along with relevant sources.
FALSE: OSHA regulations prevent businesses from requiring employees to wear masks.
False. On OSHA’s page with frequently asked questions about COVID-19, OSHA states, “OSHA generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings at work. Face coverings are intended to prevent wearers who have Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) without knowing it (i.e., those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic) from spreading potentially infectious respiratory droplets to others. This is known as source control.”
FALSE: Masks don’t prevent the spread of COVID-19
The novel coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets released when we cough, sneeze, talk, sing, or yell. Covering your nose and mouth, whether it’s with a surgical mask or homemade cloth mask, is an effective way of containing those droplets and protecting others.
A review of 172 studies worldwide (published in The Lancet) shows that wearing masks can reduce the risk of spreading the virus to about 3 percent.
Another study, led by a Texas A&M University professor, found that NOT wearing a face mask dramatically increases a person’s chances of becoming infected. Comparing trends and mitigation procedures in China, Italy and New York City, the researchers found that using a face mask reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6-May 9 and by over 66,000 in New York City from April 17-May 9.
FALSE: Wearing a mask can make me sick or lower my O2 count to dangerous levels
Cloth face coverings and masks don’t trap enough carbon dioxide to be harmful, and because most people won’t be wearing a mask for hours or days, the risk of carbon dioxide poisoning, or hypercapnia, is nearly nonexistent. Similarly, any suggestion that masks deprive people of oxygen is unfounded. Masks are very safe when worn properly.
FALSE: Only N95 masks provide any protection whatsoever
Surgical and cloth masks can be very effective at blocking large particles such as respiratory droplets, according to laboratory tests. Homemade face coverings are also effective, particularly if they include multiple layers of fabric and fit snugly against your face.