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Coming to the Rest of the U.S.? Texas City Makes It a Crime Not to Wear a Mask in Public

Amid a spike in COVID-19 coronavirus cases in south Texas, the border town of Laredo has ordered all of its residents to wear some form of face mask or other covering in public places–or else face a fine of up to $1,000. The new restrictions were voted on during an emergency meeting by the City Council on Tuesday evening and took effect at midnight Thursday. It is perhaps a sign of things to come in towns and cities across the nation.

Per the order, all persons over the age of five must wear “some form of covering over their nose and mouth, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandana, or handkerchief, when: entering into orinside of any building open to the public; when using public transportation, taxis, or ride shares; or when pumping gas.” The requirement doesn’t apply to persons exercising or driving their own vehicles.

Those failing to follow the order face a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

But city officials are also trying to balance the public face mask requirement with nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed by medical professionals and first responders, urging residents to use scarfs or bandanas instead of trying to purchase medical-grade masks.

“There is no legal requirement to go out and buy masks,” Laredo City Manager Robert Eads told reporters during a video conference call Wednesday. “We are requiring you cover yourself with a scarf or bandanna or with a mask if you have it, great. We’re begging you to not search out and seek N95 masks from our medical community. Those should be reserved only for them.”

Laredo may be a canary in the coal mine as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – both of which have repeatedly said the general public should only wear masks if they are sick or coughing – have seen drastic shifts in that position in recent weeks.

During a Monday interview with WABE Atlanta, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the agency was reviewing its guidelines on who should wear masks.

Pointing to new data showing that asymptomatic carriers had shed the disease at a high rate, Redfield said the guidance on mask wearing was being “critically re-reviewed, to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected.”

University of San Francisco distinguished research scientist Jeremy Howard, whose research institute has studied the effectiveness of basic DIY masks, said last week that the push against having the general public wear masks will be viewed as one of the biggest missteps by policymakers.

“There are good reasons to believe DIY masks would help a lot,” Howard wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “Look at Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Korea and Taiwan, all of which have covid-19 largely under control. They are all near the original epicenter of the pandemic in mainland China, and they have economic ties to China. Yet none has resorted to a lockdown, such as in China’s Wuhan province. In all of these countries, all of which were hit hard by the SARS respiratory virus outbreak in 2002 and 2003, everyone is wearing masks in public.”

[image via YouTube screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.