Commissioners on June 19 approved the mandatory-mask order by a 3-2 vote after a discussion that centered on how enforcing the $500 fine for non-compliance would affect small and minority-owned businesses.
Under the new order, businesses in the county that provide goods or services directly to the public will be required to develop a health and safety policy. At minimum, that policy must require all employees and visitors to wear face coverings in areas where maintaining six-foot separation cannot be guaranteed.
These businesses must also post a sign in a prominent place that communicates the mandatory mask requirement to employees and customers.
"This is probably our pathway that we can get to opening up our economy and our community in a safe way," county health Director Phil Huang told reporters at a June 19 press conference.
Failure to implement one of these health and safety plans would result in a fine to the business of $500 per violation.
The order also urges residents of Dallas County who are at least 10 years old to wear masks in other public spaces where maintaining six feet of separation from others would be difficult. Residents would not be asked to wear masks when exercising outside, while driving alone or with passengers from their own household. Their faces could also remain uncovered while pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment, or while eating and drinking.
These additional restrictions were implemented after the county saw a roughly 40% jump in the number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 over a period of two weeks.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said he brought the order before commissioners in response to the rising hospitalizations and confirmed case counts. He cited studies of other countries and states that have implemented universal masking orders that suggest authorities have been able to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming the hospitals with COVID-19 cases.
But Commissioner John Wiley Price, who said he supported mask-wearing generally, expressed repeated concern over how the order would be enforced.
The measure, he said, could result in uneven enforcement among businesses that are not in compliance and are unable to pay the fine. Small businesses in communities where the majority of residents are black or Latino communities could be targeted disproportionately by police, and may have a harder time complying than a large company with an extensive legal team, he said.
Jenkins assured the public during the June 19 press conference that he did not expect police officers to be involved in checking businesses for compliance. Instead, he said he expected that task would fall to a smaller group of code-enforcement officials, who would work with businesses to come up with a plan for ensuring masks are worn.
Jenkins was joined by commissioners Theresa Daniel and Elba Garcia in voting to support the order. Price and J.J. Koch voted against the new measure.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include more comments from Phil Huang and Clay Jenkins, as well as additional context for the order.