County judge on mandating masks in public and reopening the economy

County Judge Clay Jenkins
County Judge Clay Jenkins


The Dallas Examiner


“We are in the middle of this fight and we must not waver from the exercise of sound personal decision-making and smart physical distancing. I’m proud of the actions North Texans are taking to protect themselves and public health,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged county residents last week.

“You have been sacrificing under the Safer-at-Home order since March 22, and that sacrifice is paying off. Dr. Robert Haley, the renowned UTSW epidemiologist, told me yesterday that had I waited a week or more to move North Texas to Safer at Home we might have been the next New York. This is a critical time for all of us to keep following the Safer At Home orders. If we do that, we will have enough hospital beds and ventilators and we will get this over with sooner rather than later.”

As last week began, the county saw 79 additional positive cases of COVID-19 and four deaths on Sunday, and 65 additional cases on April 13 with one death. Most of the patients who didn’t survive were over the age of 60.

“Today we announce the loss of four more Dallas County residents … The lower number today of new COVID-19 positive cases is encouraging and we will watch closely to see if this is the beginning of a trend downward or a blip on the day we switch reporting to a new database system. Safer-at-Home was extended today for two weeks. This is necessary to keep you safe and stabilize non-essential movement as we bring businesses like retail-to-go and others back,” Jenkins said April 14 during a news conference.

However, the county saw 124 additional cases April 17 and 134 new cases April 18. Moreover, April 18 marked the county’s highest number of new cases in one day and April 15 marked the highest number deaths in one day, with the deaths of 10 individuals between the age of 30 and 90.

On Sunday, the county announced its first day without a death.

As of Wednesday at noon, the county reported 2,683 confirmed cases and 65 deaths related to COVID-19.


Masks and face coverings

On April 16, Jenkins asked residents to limit unnecessary trips, saying that each trip carries additional risks for the individual and anyone else they come in contact with.

“There are a lot more cars on the roads this week. That’s a concern. If a few of us slack off on making good personal responsibility decisions, we not only put public health at risk but are prolonging this for ourselves and everyone,” he said, with a reminder about the risk essential workers face every day. “Remember each trip to an essential business carries with it some risk, so plan ahead and make a list of what you need.”

“Starting Saturday, to the extent possible, all visitors and essential business employees are required to wear a cloth face covering when at an essential business or on public transportation.”

Jenkins said that the purpose of the face coverings were to protect others, in case they have the virus but don’t have symptoms yet or are a carrier. Therefore the covering did not have to be a PPE mask – N95 respirators and surgical masks. Individuals could use any type of mask that covers the nose and mouth.

He went on to show how various items that most people have around the house could be used as a facial covering and offered instructions on making a homemade covering.

Jenkins reassured the public that they would not be stopped and given tickets if they were not wearing a mask. He said he was relying on the good nature of people to want to do their part in controlling the spread of the devastating disease to those too medically fragile to fight it, as well as essential workers.

With concerns about how the order would be enforced, Commissioners John Wiley Price and J.J. Koch called an emergency meeting at the Dallas County Commissioners Court. The meeting was held with Koch, Price and Dr. Elba Garcia seated at desks six feet apart, while Jenkins and Dr. Theresa Daniel attended through live video.

Throughout the meeting, commissioners took turns shouting at the judge as well as each other. Tackling issues of enforcement and compliance, the commissioners demanded that Jenkins put in the written order that police would not stop people who are not wearing masks and that craft stores be opened in order to make masks.

Price made a passionate pitch for barbershops and beauty shops to be reopened, stating that it wasn’t a personal plea; he felt the pain of his community who is suffering because they have no income. Garcia argued the point, saying that she felt the pain of her community, too, who is suffering because the disease has hit them hard.

Jenkins agreed to make it clear that police would not stop anyone who was not wearing a mask while running errands or visiting an essential business, though he stated that he was sure he had done so during a previous commissioners court conference and during his announcement, but admitted he had not talked to every police chief.

He also agreed to open craft stores, but said it was not yet safe to open barbershops and beauty shops.


Reopening the economy

“I believe we – local, state, and federal officials – can work together to protect public health and carefully open the economy,” Jenkins said Friday in response to concerns about reopening businesses. “We must be fully committed to following the science so we minimize the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 that could force us backwards. We must listen to our constituents including those voices too often ignored but critical to this response. This includes among others: voices for workplace safety and fair treatment, communities of color who are bearing a disproportionate share of the pain of this pandemic and small business entrepreneurs who create half the jobs in Texas.”

“We are all anxious to get more Texans back into the workforce in a cautious and scientific way.”

Jenkins stated that he meets weekly with health care experts by telephone, discussing how to safely open the economy. The team has discussed loosening the restrictions on some surgeries and retail-to-go businesses, and when to reopen movie theaters and restaurants – though they don’t contemplate those will be in the first group of businesses to be opened.

The first group of businesses opened would be supported by testing and the tracing of positive cases, he announced. After watching that first group to measure its effect on public health and if successful, open the next grouping – which could possibly take two weeks.

“Together, all of us must continue making good personal responsibility decisions and limit unnecessary trips and contact. This will play an important role as to how successful North Texas is and how fast we can end this crisis,” he concluded.


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