Doubling down on the recommendation for people to wear a mask in public places where social distancing may not always be feasible, Tarrant County’s public health director said it’s “the simplest thing” people can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
At a briefing before the Tarrant County Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said almost all key data points for COVID-19 were trending upwards. Hospitalizations have increased by about 40% in the past two weeks, Taneja said.
“I implore our public in Tarrant County, wear a mask,” he told reporters afterward. “That’s the simplest thing you can do. Let’s see how well it cuts down on the transmission. Science and the data are showing us that if I’m infected with COVID-19, my risk of spreading it you cuts down by 75%.”
According to Taneja, the county has had 9,388 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday. 260 new cases were reported on Tuesday, with 211 deaths total. Taneja added the death rate in Tarrant County was declining, which “is the only good news I could find”, he told commissioners.
“It’s the reopening of the economy. It was a phased approach, but we’re pretty open now. We’re back to somewhat of normal activity if you will. So, a lot of people are coming out. They’re going to routine activities for entertainment for work, for a variety of things,” he said. “Then we had Mother’s Day and Memorial Day related parties and get-togethers. We had the protests. We had other things, graduation ceremonies before and after parties for graduations so all of those events combined led to the increase in cases.”
In Tarrant County, there is currently no mandate on masks. County Judge Glen Whitley said the issue has been discussed between himself and city mayors; however, it remains a strong recommendation as of Tuesday.
“Everywhere I talk to folks, I encourage them to wear masks. I don’t know if it’s just the Texan in us or what, but we just don’t like to be told what to do. I think we like to be convinced that it’s in the best interest of the public. It’s in the best interest to show respect for someone,” Judge Whitley said. “If I tell them to do it, someone will not do it just to spite me.”
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Whitley added another stay-at-home order is the last resort, and he was remaining focused on the number of available hospital beds in Tarrant County and hospitalizations.
“This morning, I heard 3,300 available beds in the North Texas areas,” Whitley said. “We’ve got 1,800 of them in Tarrant County. I still feel like we’re in good shape. I’m not even going to begin to think about a stay at home order.”
Echoing the urge to wear masks, Fort Worth Mayor Price said businesses in the city have always been able to issue mandates on their own.
“In this time where all of these businesses, particularly small businesses, are struggling to recover – it’s really hard to say ‘we’re going to fine you’ if you don’t have everybody wearing a mask and it just turns business away from them,” Mayor Price told NBC 5. “As we’re supposed to be reopening and rebuilding our economy, you don’t want to penalize your businesses. Your small businesses, particularly, and the real reality, who’s going to enforce this? Are we going to send police officers and code officers out to say a business owner, ‘we’re going to fine you’ because your staff didn’t turn people away? It’s a real conundrum.”
What they are asking for now is personal responsibility, Price said.
“I know they’re uncomfortable and some of the younger folks have said, they’re not cool. Well, COVID’s not cool either,” she told NBC 5. “The message is, you need to do this. If you love somebody, do it for them. Just as importantly, do it for yourself, you can make a difference. For mothers and fathers, if you want your kids to go back to school in the fall or business owners, if you want to get full business going again, get people wearing masks.”
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.