HOUSTON – The mayors of nine of Texas’ biggest cities, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, urged Gov. Greg Abbott in a letter Tuesday to grant them the “authority to set rules and regulations” mandating face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Texas, an executive order from Abbott bans local governments from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who don't wear masks in public. The mayors wrote that many people in their cities continue to refuse to wear face masks and that "a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option" when it comes to regulating the issue.
Along with Turner, other mayors who signed the letter include San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen.
The letter asks Abbott to consider allowing each city's local officials to decide whether to require the use of a face covering in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
"We think you would agree that a healthy economy starts with healthy people," the letter states. "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."
“This one step could prove to be the most effective way to prevent the transmission of the disease," the mayors went on to write. “Yet many people in many of our cities are still refusing to wear these coverings even though these coverings are scientifically proven to help prevent the disease from spreading.”
Abbott has continued to encourage Texans to wear masks, but in a press conference Tuesday balked again at the idea of imposing penalties on people who don’t.
"I make clear on a daily basis around the entire state of Texas that wearing a mask is very important, and local officials send that message," he said. "Putting people in jail, however, is the wrong approach for this thing."
He said local officials wanting to slow the spread of the virus have other tools at their disposal. For example, while they can't impose fines related to masks, they can fine businesses or individuals for violating rules on gatherings, he said.
Read the full letter below:
Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.
Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman, has been a financial supporter of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.