Fort Bend County Judge KP George held a press conference at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening to announce the issuance of an executive order requiring businesses to enforce a mask policy throughout the county, …
Fort Bend County Judge KP George held a press conference at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening to announce the issuance of an executive order requiring businesses to enforce a mask policy throughout the county, with some exceptions. George said he considered feedback from medical professionals, local leaders, business owners and residents. The order comes as the county sees exponential growth of COVID-19 cases, George said.
“We have been approached by some of the major retailers like Kroger and HEB and other retailers and also our health care system – the Methodist system – and others in our county and they feel that there is a need of having some kind of a mask ordinance where they will be able to enforce when their customers come to buy stuff, come to work and come to get service in their business,” George said.
The order goes into effect at midnight June 25. No end date was indicated during the press conference.
Information was obtained from the public through a survey that was launched on Sunday and George reported that 77.5% of about 17,500 resident respondents favored instituting a mask requirement for businesses in the county.
“That is the very reason why we are moving forward, listening to our business community, listening to our community leaders and also, as mentioned, faith leaders. All stakeholders, really said it’s time for us to do something really because this issue is spiraling out of control.”
A $500 fine may be assessed for each instance of a violation, George said.
The executive order requires businesses to post notices conspicuously at each entrance that masks are required in the facility. Exceptions were made for places of worship such as churches, temples and synagogues, though a letter from area faith leaders said they would commit to protecting the safety of worshipers, George said.
While a possible fine is included in the order, Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton said details regarding enforcement had not been established. Under the prior stay home orders in Fort Bend County, much was left up to law enforcement officers’ discretion and law enforcement agency officials from the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Bend County Constable Precinct 3 said the focus was on educating business owners rather than issuing citations.
Fort Bend County Health Authority Dr. Jacqueline Minter said the county had seen the positive effects of prior executive orders to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and indicated that her position as a physician was that the order was necessary to stop the spread of body fluids that can spread the virus which causes COVID-19.
“People are within close contact through droplets that come from coughing, from sneezing, … from laughing, through singing and we do know that avoiding large and mass gatherings, wearing face coverings when distancing is not possible, staying home when you’re ill and washing your hands frequently will all reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Minter said.
Dr. Majid Basit, president of the Fort Bend Medical Society and medical director at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land hospital, said it was important for the order to be instituted as cases continue to rise. Over the last several days, Basit said he has become concerned that not enough hospital beds, especially ICU beds, will be available to service COVID-19 patients as well as patients with other serious ailments such as heart attacks and strokes. He added that increased COVID-19 risks for hospital staff could decrease hospital effectiveness.
Both Minter and Basit said the cloth masks, good hygiene and social distancing as much as possible can be effective to keep hospitals from being overrun by COVID-19 cases. Basit added that nearby hospitals are already near capacity for patients in need of the extra care needed to fight a case of COViD-19, including those hospitals at the Texas Medical Center.
“I work in a hospital and I see every day our numbers growing and it’s getting to the point where it’s reminiscent of our first peak,” Basit said. “And why is that important? Because we have only so many beds and these (COVID-19) patients stay in the hospital for days if not weeks and they get very sick and they need a lot of resources.”
As of Tuesday evening, Fort Bend County reports a total of 3,176 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began with 50 deaths and 1,197 recoveries. That leaves 1,929 cases currently active.
This story will be updated with a link to the order once it is digitally available.
For those without a mask, the Fort Bend County website has instructions on how to make a mask and general guidance for wearing a cloth mask.