On Wednesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an order requiring all businesses in Dallas County — including restaurants and bars — to implement health and safety protocols that require workers and customers to wear masks indoors.
Jenkins’s order, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, August 11, requires that the health and safety policies developed by businesses like bars and restaurants be and implemented within three days after the order goes into effect. It also requires that these policies be posted publicly, where they can easily be seen by both employees and diners. If businesses fail to develop a health and safety policy and post it publicly, they can face fines “not to exceed $1,000,” according to the judge.
According to Jenkins, businesses that operate in Dallas County have an obligation to instruct diners to wear masks indoors, and use employees to make sure that requirement is being followed. Jenkins says that nearly all businesses in the county have complied with previous masking requirements, and that only one fine has been issued for failure to comply. “Businesses won’t be fined if they’re taking all reasonable steps to enforce mask-wearing policies,” Jenkins said at a press conference. Jenkins also said that his office consulted with bar and restaurant owners in Dallas County in creating the order.
Earlier this week, Jenkins filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from interfering with local officials like Jenkins as they implement mask mandates. On Tuesday, a Dallas County district judge agreed with Jenkins.
In the opinion, issued by district judge Tonya Parker, agreed with the argument that citizens of Dallas County will experience “immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or harm” if Jenkins is not allowed to implement measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Parker ruled that provisions of GA 38, Abbott’s executive order that prohibited from municipalities from implementing rules like mask mandates, were “unenforceable.”
On Tuesday, the county reported a three-day total of 3,270 new cases of the virus, which is spiking across North Texas, especially among children. As of Tuesday, there were only two pediatric ICU beds left in the county, and over a third of all adult patients hospitalized in Dallas County right now are battling COVID-19.
Abbott has been steadfast that no new statewide mandates requiring masking or limited business occupancy would go into effect in the months following March 2, when the governor proudly announced that the state was “100 percent open for business,” and barred local authorities from implementing mask mandates or other COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Now, the state is fully in the midst of a third wave of COVID-19 cases, which is straining hospitals to the point that patients are being airlifted out of major cities like Dallas and Houston because there are not enough beds or healthcare workers to staff them.
Jenkins isn’t the only person — government official or otherwise — to sue Abbott over the inability to implement mask mandates. Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, also sought a similar temporary restraining order, as did a group of Dallas parents who challenged the governor’s authority to restrict mask mandates in court.
Jenkins has not yet indicated how long the mask mandate will be in effect in Dallas County. He did, however, say that future restrictions like capacity limits in indoor spaces, are currently under consideration. A hearing on the temporary restraining order issued by Judge Parker is set for August 24.