Texas border city issuing citations for not wearing facial coverings in public, not collecting fines

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Educational information also to be given out by police

McALLEN, TEXAS (Border Report) — Although officials in the South Texas border city of Laredo may no longer collect fines from those not wearing facial coverings, due to the governor’s recent orders, they still plan on issuing citations.

This came after the Laredo City Council late Monday night in a split decision voted to continue giving out citations, regardless of the ability to actually collect fees.

Those favoring the measure cited the high rate of COVID-19 infections in Laredo and Webb County. As of Tuesday, the city and county have had 400 coronavirus cases, including 117 healthcare workers infected, and 17 deaths from the virus.

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

During a noon video conference call with media on Tuesday, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz explained that the issuing of citations with no legal teeth is more a symbolic gesture. His hope is that the order will impress upon residents the importance of covering their nose and mouth in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s not the intent to harass anyone but rather to educate and to ask for their cooperation. We know the benefits that wearing a mask provides and that’s all we are trying to enforce here in the City of Laredo and to alleviate ourselves from this virus,” Saenz said in response to a question from Border Report.

Laredo City Spokesman Rafael Benavides said that the city’s legal and law enforcement departments are working out how to also include some type of “educational material” that will also be given with any citations to emphasize how facial coverings help to stop the transmission of this deadly novel virus.

“Yes we are still going to be issuing citations for not wearing facial coverings but the reason behind that is because it is still very important for us to remind the public that is an official recommendation from the city and the CDC,” Benavides said. “And when they give a citation, PD might also be giving a piece of information on why people should be using face masks. … The whole point of this is public education and that is what the city is trying to do.”

The whole point of this is public education and that is what the city is trying to do.”

Laredo Spokesman Rafael Benavides

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last Friday reopened stores, libraries, museums and restaurants statewide with modifications and ordered that municipalities can no longer fine residents for not wearing face masks in public.

On Tuesday afternoon, Abbott announced he was allowing hair salons to reopen on May 8 and gyms on May 18.

Nevertheless, the Laredo City Council on Monday also approved a resolution allowing local businesses to deny service to anyone not wearing a facial mask. And although city buildings are currently closed, when they reopen anyone entering these facilities must cover their nose and mouth, the council also decided.

“It is our civic duty to protect not only ourselves but others in the community,” Benavides said.

This remote community of 250,000, located directly across from the northern Mexico city of Nuevo Laredo, has had a surge of cases, many coming from Mexico, which has been slow to test for the virus. Mayor Saenz has repeatedly said he is concerned the city’s “back door is wide open” a reference to their sister city across the Rio Grande.

The Tamaulipas Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 22 new COVID-19 cases in the northern Mexico state, including one new case in Nuevo Laredo, bringing the total coronavirus cases to 635. In the past week, Tamaulipas, which includes 200 miles of river border with the United States, has had over 100 new cases.

Dr. Victor Treviño, the City of Laredo Health Authority, recommends that restaurants require patrons to wear masks inside and to only remove them when eating.

“We encourage people to bring masks and keep them on when not eating. This will be somewhat difficult but it has to be done,” Treviño said Tuesday.

Treviño reported that the city’s infection rate remains at 17% — well above the state’s 4% average — but below 26%, which the city reported just a few weeks ago.

Healthcare workers account for nearly 30% of all infections in Laredo and Webb County, Treviño said. Laredo Medical Center, the largest hospital in the region, has had 64 healthcare staff infected by COVID-19. Doctors Hospital of Laredo, the area’s other hospital, has had 21 healthcare employees test positive for coronavirus, the City of Laredo Health Department and Treviño’s office reported.

“All of the gains will disappear if we revert back to being like we were,” Treviño said.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

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