Customers and employees will be required to wear face masks inside local Brazos County businesses beginning Tuesday at 12:01 a.m.
The decision was made official late Friday afternoon as county Judge Duane Peters signed an order requiring face coverings inside businesses. Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson signed a nearly identical order for the city at the same time.
In the county’s order, businesses must adopt a health and safety policy that, at minimum, requires employees and visitors to wear a face covering when social distancing cannot be ensured. Businesses also must notify employees and visitors of the policy with a sign.
The orders come following an increase in COVID-19 cases throughout Brazos County over the past few weeks. On Friday, the Brazos County Health District announced 122 new cases and the 28th COVID-19-related death. There have been 1,615 cases, with 894 remaining active and 29 county residents hospitalized.
Peters said he has heard many pros and cons but believes that a mask protocol is “an important element of trying to make sure that we control this disease and try to stop the spread.”
“We felt like we really needed a mandate in place to really bring it up to a level that people understand that this really is important,” Peters said.
According to the Bryan order, all people over the age of 10 who are in public and/or entering a place of business shall use “reasonable efforts” to comply with face coverings and social distancing protocols. Coverings may include homemade masks, scarfs, bandannas or a handkerchief and should cover the wearer’s mouth and nose.
No civil or criminal penalty will be imposed on businesses who do not comply, but that is subject to change, the Bryan order notes.
Nelson said the order is part of an effort to keep the community safe and businesses operating.
“We want to keep Texas open,” Nelson said Friday. “We want to keep the Brazos Valley open and our cities open.”
Masks are not required for certain activities, such as if a person is eating or drinking; driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver; when doing so poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk; when operating outdoor equipment; and more.
College Station Mayor Karl Mooney signed an emergency order requiring face masks in businesses late Thursday after the city’s council members expressed unanimous support for such a requirement at their Thursday meeting. That order takes effect at 6 a.m. Monday.
The College Station order is similar to the ones in the county and Bryan, but College Station’s also states that a violation could result in a fine up to $1,000 and authorizes the use of “other lawfully available enforcement tools.” But Mooney said Friday that the city’s goal is to educate first rather than enforce fines immediately.
The decisions are a shift from what both mayors and the judge had expressed in recent weeks. Previously they said requiring masks may not be necessary, but all said changing circumstances related to the pandemic and a desire to reinforce the importance of wearing masks and social distancing caused them to move forward with the newly signed orders.
Mooney said the increasing number of cases in Brazos County and models that showed that the cases weren’t going to slow down as they originally hoped meant that “we had to take a little bit more aggressive action than what we had been doing.”
The city of Bryan put out a digital four-question survey Friday morning asking for feedback from residents about a mask policy. About 3,600 people responded by the time the survey closed at the end of the day, according to Bryan Communications and Marketing Manager Kristen Waggener. The majority of respondents said they were in favor of a mask requirement.
On Friday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott shut bars down and scaled back restaurant capacity to 50%. He also shut down river rafting trips and banned outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people unless local officials approve.
The three officials said Friday that anyone who has trouble affording a mask should reach out to their respective city or the county for assistance.
The Bryan and county orders are in place indefinitely. The College Station order is set to expire on July 10, but Mooney said that the city’s council will determine if that needs to be extended before the 10th.