'Very Difficult To Enforce' — Hill Country Law Enforcement Says Texas' Mask Order Contains Loophole | Texas Public Radio

'Very Difficult To Enforce' — Hill Country Law Enforcement Says Texas' Mask Order Contains Loophole

Jul 6, 2020

The sheriffs for two Hill Country counties say they can't — and won't — enforce Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide mask order.

In Kerr County, William "Rusty" Hierholzer said everyone should wear a mask, but he believes the governor's order is unconstitutional. In Gillespie County, Buddy Mills' office echoed the claim.

Both sheriffs also argue the governor's order is unenforceable because of the way it's written. The order prevents law enforcement from detaining someone for not wearing a mask, which they believe is necessary to write a citation or a warning.

Buddy Mills' office said the order "strips law enforcement of any fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance with the law."

"The order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement the use of detention, arrest, or confinement to enforce the order," Mills wrote in a Facebook post.

Mills added that the language in the order subjects his officers to liability for speaking to citizens about this order, "as that could be construed as a detention."

The Kerr County Sheriff's Office posted similar concerns on Facebook:

"How can we stop and talk to or write a citation or even give a verbal warning, WITHOUT detaining."

The police department in Kerrville also said it can't enforce the order because of the language it contains, and Fredericksburg police are still considering their options but are not yet issuing citations.

Curtis Thomason, assistant chief of the Kerrville Police Department said residents should follow the mask order.

"But the bottom line is the verbage of the order makes it very difficult to enforce or issue a citation," he said.

In the space of a month, Kerr County's confirmed cases of COVID-19 have spiked from 20 to 111, and in Gillespie County, the cases have risen from five to 45. The entire state is experiencing a surge in cases, and hospitals in major cities are reaching capacity.

Some opponents to the mask order cite false information about face coverings, including several Facebook posts claiming they cause adverse health effects.

Dr. Junda Woo, the medical director at Metropolitan Health District in San Antonio, told TPR the claims are unfounded and that nurses and doctors who wear masks for hours on end over decades-long careers don't experience any of the supposed side effects.

"No, I'm not aware of doctors or nurses having that kind of a side effect," she said. "It's not comfortable, but it is very protective, and doctors and nurses are happy to do it, and they appreciate everybody else doing it so that we have less transmission in our community because our hospitals are filled beyond the brim right now."

The CDC website has detailed information on masks, including 19 recent studies on the efficacy of face coverings against the spread of COVID-19.

Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

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