Even though businesses like bars and restaurants are starting to reopen with limited customer capacities, the coronavirus outbreak is far from finished.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 100,000 Texans have been infected with the virus since the start of the outbreak as of Friday, June 19. The number of cases rose by 78 percent since Memorial Day.
The rising numbers prompted Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere along with mayors of several other Dallas area cities to sign and send a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott urging him to grant them “the authority to set rules and regulations on the use of face coverings in each of our cities,” according to a copy of the letter posted on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Twitter page.
“A one-size-fits-all approach is not the best option,” the letter reads. “We should trust local officials to make informed choices about health policy. And if mayors are given the opportunity to require face coverings, we believe our cities will be ready to help reduce the spread of this disease.”
LaRosiliere says he signed the letter addressed to the Governor to support fellow mayors’ efforts to enforce public health policies such as safety masks, though he notes he doesn’t see the need to institute any mandatory enforcement for his city.
“Although we don’t have a desire to make masks mandatory here in Plano, I do support my fellow mayors in their ability to make the decision for their city,” LaRosiliere says. “It’s really about what I call the freedom to govern and in times like this, decisions have to be made in real time.”
Following the delivery of the letter, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issued an “industry guidance” letter to bar and restaurant owners across the state urging them to follow health and safety guidelines set by the Governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas. The TABC’s letter encourages eating and drinking establishments to review health protocol “checklists” for their appropriate business that include items such as keeping customers from loitering near the bar and high traffic areas, only providing service to customers who are seated in groups of no more than 10 and ensuring customers maintain a 6-foot distance between groups in waiting areas.
TABC also announced that it will strictly monitor bars and restaurants to ensure they are enforcing these procedures with their customers and warns it could institute punishments such as a 30-day license suspension for first time offenders and a 60-day license suspension for repeat offenders.
“This is about self compliance and self discipline,” LaRosiliere says. “If I wanted to go ahead and say masks are mandatory in Plano, am I gonna have my police officers running around writing citations or checking to see if people have masks on? I don’t think that’s productive. We’ve said from the beginning that to beat this virus, it’s incumbent on everyone’s self responsibility. So to me, the level it comes to is providing our citizens with good information and encouraging them to practice social distancing and wearing a mask and proper hygiene.”
LaRosiliere’s strategy is to keep the city’s citizens and business leaders informed about proper procedures and safety practices through the city’s website and social media channels rather than making masks mandatory for businesses or the public. The Dallas County Commissioners Court passed an order Friday requiring all entities that conduct business with the public to implement COVID-19 safety procedures such as masks for staff members and six-foot socially distancing between staff and customers during operation.
“Every city is different,” LaRosiliere says. “Our case numbers are rising due, in part, to increased testing.”
In May, only 4,000 tests were done in the state, he adds, and as of June 15, it’s about 1.3 million. “So it’s significantly been ramped up and you’re going to see higher numbers. Our hospitals, which is what I look at, aren’t under any pressure and to me, that becomes that barometer on whether the concern level is raised for that next point.”
It’s a similar point Gov. Abbott has been echoing at press conferences.
LaRosiliere says procedures and safety measures such as face coverings and social distancing aren’t just for the safety of the person practicing it. It’s also for the people around them.
“We’ve asked businesses and individuals to severely disrupt their life and we are reengaging our community back in a very safe way,” LaRosiliere says. “We would just continue to ask everyone to exercise self discipline because doing the right thing is not only about yourself but it’s taking care of people you care about and your neighbors.
“Together, we’ll beat this.”