The mask order falls under a health and safety policy the county requires of all businesses, placing the onus of enforcement on local business owners and employees.
The order includes an exception for those for whom mask-wearing would pose “a significant mental or physical health risk to the individual.” However, many residents have complained to the court in the past that the exception is not regularly recognized.
The order is an extension of the order first enacted by Whitley on June 25, 2020, and extended in July, August, and November.
Dr. Joseph Jenkins, a retired veterinarian, asked the court during the public comment section to consider only extending the mask order by 30 days rather than 90.
“The order can be revoked or suspended at any time,” Whitley told Jenkins.
Whitley also reminded the public participants at the court that Governor Abbott issued a state-level individual mask mandate on July 3 that is still in place.
The local disaster declaration first issued on March 18, which ostensibly allows Whitley to issue his mask orders, was extended by the commissioners court unanimously with no discussion.
The commissioners also received Whitley’s mask order unanimously with no discussion.
Tarrant County COVID-19 case numbers are down significantly from early January, with 1,944 cases reported last week. That’s just a fraction of the 12,600 cases reported the week of January 23. The case levels are approximately the same as they were in July 2020, Taneja told the commissioners court.
Additionally, the reproductive spread of the virus has dropped to 0.68, interpreted by experts as an indication that the viral spread is decreasing.
Hospitalizations in Tarrant County are also showing optimistic signs, with only 636 beds, or 13.58 percent, in the county occupied by confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Tarrant County Public Health has administered 92,977 vaccine doses over 10 weeks. A total of 291,112 vaccine doses have been administered across the county, including private providers.
“Almost 10 percent of the county has received at least one dose,” Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja told the commissioners court.
However, at the end of this week, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), in coordination with the State of Texas, will set up a community vaccine center at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
FEMA plans to administer 3,000 vaccine doses per day as part of an eight-week effort. It will have a particular focus on reaching underserved and minority communities, Taneja said.
“The goal of establishing these joint federal pilot sites is to continue to vaccinate more Texans in an efficient, effective, and equitable manner, with an explicit focus on making sure that communities with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection are not left behind,” a press statement from Abbott’s office states.
The Department of State Health Services (DSHS), which oversees the vaccine distribution in the state, has reduced the Tarrant County allocation to zero for the next three weeks while the FEMA site is administering vaccines, Taneja told the court.
Texas Health Resources and the JPS Health Network are sharing about 6,900 doses with the county so that it can continue some vaccine administration.
Whitley seemed somewhat optimistic, after speaking with Dr. John Hellerstedt of DSHS, that the policy may be revised and Tarrant County may get some vaccine doses from the state during the next three weeks.
Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks (D-Pct. 1) expressed criticism of the FEMA effort at Globe Life Field in Arlington.
“If the reason for a mega-site is to increase equity, you can’t increase equity by creating an access problem,” Brooks said, adding that Globe Life Field is hard to access via public transportation.
“FEMA needs to leave the outreach to local communities who know where the underserved are and how to reach them,” Brooks added.
Taneja responded that some plans are in place to help provide transportation to those who may need it.