DALLAS - People in Dallas County are now required to wear a mask when going into businesses.
Dallas County Commissioners voted 3-2 Friday morning in favor of an ordinance that says businesses must require customers and workers to wear face coverings.
It was a contentious court meeting with Commissioners John Wiley Price and J.J. Koch voting no. At times, the emotional commissioners were literally yelling at each other.
The first issue was County Judge Clay Jenkins’ original order included wording suggesting sheriff’s deputy enforcement if the mandatory mask order was not followed. He amended that late Thursday night.
“If by some miracle they're in a store and someone is not wearing a mask, that does not mean they've violated something. The business is required to come up with a plan and implement the plan, not to be the mask police themselves, not to force a mask onto the face of every person in their building,” Jenkins explained.
Jenkins says new studies from health experts show it’s the single-most effective way to snuff out the coronavirus.
“And we are the state with the most new cases of coronavirus, and, sadly, we’re the state with the most new hospitalizations of coronavirus,” he said.
Commission Price and Koch also expressed concern about the government being overbearing in how businesses operate even during a pandemic.
“Why are we even going down this road?” Price said. “Why do they need us? They can do that if they don’t want me to come into their stores, with no shoes, no shirt, no service, they can do that. Why do they need us?”
Koch exploded as John Stephens, a senior AT&T executive and both regional and national chamber of commerce board member, told commissioners they would be showing leadership by adopting the policy and that it would help the businesses who need it the most.
“Now I very much appreciate your leadership in business, but do not tell government agents how to do their job when people have their lives on the line when things go wrong so badly,” Koch yelled. “And also please tell me how many small businesses you’ve worked for? How many small businesses you’ve watched go under because the government decided to get all up in their business every day all day because they were in the wrong neighborhood?”
Jenkins, along with Commissioners Theresa Daniel and Elba Garcia, voted for the order.
There could be up to a $500 fine imposed on retailers, restaurants and other businesses that don’t comply.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly shut down local governments’ attempts to mandate masks for residents but apparently he is okay with requiring businesses to enforce the order.
Some businesses told commissioners they would put the policy into place even if it did not pass. Companies like Walmart and Central Market have said they will comply with any local order.
"Most businesses want a requirement that will make customers wear that mask. All the costumers wear that masks which protects their employees," Jenkins said.
But the National Federation of Independent Business doesn't like it. The organization argues it puts an unfair burden on business owners and maybe hurt already ailing profits and open the door to litigation.
Masks are on and signs are up at Resident Taqueria in Lake Highlands.
“We've required masks from day one. We feel like it’s important to keep our staff safe,” the owner, Andrew Savoie, said.
They were already in compliance with what goes into effect Friday at midnight,
“Even though it wasn't required, it was our decision as a workplace from the beginning to keep it on since day one and continue throughout, until we are 100 percent clear of COVID-19,” he added.
Molly Mathias, owner of Magic Hour in Bishop Arts District, says she recently asked someone to leave her store for refusing to wear a mask. Now, it’s not an option.
“It’s so upsetting because, to me, it’s such a simply thing you can do,” she said. “I think it kind of takes the burden off of us, and I’m not worried anymore about having to explain why I’m doing things the way I’m doing and I can simply say these are the rules.”
Stephanie Castillo was outside the Cinemark in Northwest Dallas on the first day it opened back. She believes there will be pushback but welcomes the decision.
“I think some people will be upset,” she said. “It’s for everyone’s protection, not just your own.”
Most of the ones entering the theater were wearing a mask.
It’ll be on businesses to keep to the order. They can be fined up to $500 for a violation. The thing is it’s enforced by county code compliance officers, and there are only two of them.
“We’re not out of the hole from COVID. We are still really struggling as a small business and my friends are, too.”
Mathias believes the mask order can only help keep people safe. She hopes for no more cases of customers lashing out at her for asking to wear a mask.
“She got even angrier then and left and was yelling that she was never going to shop and tell all her friends to not come shop here again,” Mathias recalled.
There are exceptions to the order. You do not have to wear one if you’re eating or drinking food, inside a bank or pumping gas.
The new ordinance goes into effect immediately and will last through early August.
Businesses have five days to come up with a health and safety plan that adheres to the new order and must include signs posted in conspicuous places advising that masks are mandatory.