Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff Orders Businesses to Require Masks for Customers and Workers

click to enlarge County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks during a recent coronavirus press briefing. - SCREEN CAPTURE / KSAT 12
Screen Capture / KSAT 12
County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks during a recent coronavirus press briefing.

In a move that defies recent public statements by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has issued an order forcing local businesses to require both customers and workers to wear masks.

The order, released Wednesday, comes as the county reported its highest-ever increase in COVID-19 infections.

Citing rising infection rates, local leaders, including both Wolff and SA Mayor Ron Nirenberg, have asked Abbott to step back from a state order that bars cities and counties from fining or jailing individuals who won't wear masks in crowded places.

Abbott has defended his order saying wearing face coverings is a "personal responsibility," not something to mandate. 

Under Wolff's new order, people inside businesses must wear masks within six feet of each other starting Monday. The county will be able to levy a $1,000 fine per violation on those businesses.

At a press conference Wednesday, Wolff said he believes Abbott opened the door for municipalities to adopt pandemic-related policies outside of state orders, Texas Public Radio reports.

"The action I’m taking today may be pushing the legal bounds a little bit," Wolff said.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to San Antonio and other large cities hinting that he could sue if they implement coronavirus-control measures that overstep those of the state.

However, on Wednesday, Abbott spokesman John Wittman told the Associated Press that Wolff’s move doesn’t clash with the governor’s order, which applies to individuals rather than businesses.

“Our office urges officials and the public to adopt and follow the health protocols for businesses established by doctors,” Wittman said.

On Tuesday, Bexar County reported 436 new COVID-19 cases at the same time as Texas reported record numbers of both new cases and hospitalizations.

An online petition asking San Antonio-based grocer H-E-B to require all customers to wear masks in its stores has gathered more than 39,000 signatures. In a statement released several hours after the judge's order, H-E-B said it will require face coverings for all customers and workers starting Monday.

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