Photo: Fran Ruchalski, The Enterprise / The Enterprise
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick will decide Monday morning whether to extend the order requiring masks be worn inside commercial businesses, telling The Enterprise that he wants to first check the weekend’s tally of new coronavirus infections.
The mayors of the county’s two largest cities on Sunday expressed support for continuing the order, which is set to expire on Tuesday.
Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames said the order requiring all customers and employees to wear a mask should remain in effect until data show a significant decrease in positive tests and until doctors advise otherwise.
Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bill Bartie said reversing course at this time would be the “worst mistake” for the county.
On Sunday, an Enterprise reporter and photographer visited Parkdale Mall, the Beaumont Walmart and several service stations to see if people were obeying the order, which went into effect on Wednesday.
What appeared to be a vast majority of people were wearing masks. The percentage seemed higher than on the first day of the order, and much higher than before it was issued.
Public health officials say wearing masks is an important tool for slowing the spread of the resurgent virus.
The number of new cases is exploding statewide, and Jefferson County recorded a single-day record for positive tests on Friday. The county now has recorded 1,099 cases, not including hundreds more at three local prison units.
The next official count will be released on Monday.
Branick said he, too, was noticing more masking compliance, even if some folks needed to be more careful about how they wear the face coverings.
“I went to Market Basket in Port Neches and didn’t see one person without a mask on,” he said. “I think most people are being cooperative.
“Maybe we need to put out a little something about how to wear it correctly. I noticed several people with the top of the mask below their nose. A couple were employees at Market Basket, so I told the manager.”
Branick, who on Friday issued a letter chastising people who have politicized the issue and railed against it in language that would “make a sailor blush,” said he noticed more masking in church — “and it is not required in churches.”
His letter did not calm all passions on the subject.
At Forever 21 in Parkdale Mall, a store employee named Katherine who did not want to divulge her last name said most people are cooperative.
But not all. One customer spit on her when she asked him to put on a mask before entering, she said.
Yet Katherine was back at the store entrance on Sunday ensuring shoppers were wearing a mask and wearing it properly.
A Spencer’s employee, who also wished to not be identified, said a handful of customers have refused to comply with the mask order.
“For many people, it is just an inconvenience,” Branick said Sunday. “ … It is a big step to make it a constitutional deprivation.”
Case law on that matter is well settled, he said, citing a 1905 Supreme Court ruling against a man convicted of refusing a smallpox vaccination.
“I think we ought to stop for a minute and not make this a political issue,” Branick said. “It’s a public health issue.”
Bartie said he had not seen much resistance in Port Arthur, though he acknowledged he seldom leaves his home.
The Port Arthur mayor said he would like to see the state close back down as it did in late March and April. He reiterated his belief that Texas moved too quickly to reopen.
“What I said back then was, it was public wealth versus public health,” Bartie said.
“You have to trust in God, or whichever deity that you have, that you will be cared for. You might not make it at the rate you are used to and can’t shop and buy the most expensive things, but you will have the sanctity of life.”
Fran Ruchalski contributed to this story.