By HUNTER GARZA and SKYE SEIPP
Citizens of Dallas County will be required to cover their mouth and nose when visiting an essential business, like a grocery store, riding public transportation or working for an essential service. The order goes into effect on April 17 at 11:59 p.m.
This new requirement is a part of Judge Clay Jenkins’ Safer at Home order and is set to last until April 30. However, it could be extended if Jenkins decides to push the deadline back, which he could do through May 20 when Dallas’ emergency declaration ends.
Everyone over the age of 2 will be required to comply, and parents are responsible for children ages 10 and under. Masks are not required for activities like visiting a park or going outside for exercise.
“I don’t want you to think of this as an abridgment of your freedom,” Jenkins said at a press conference today. “But we should be asking, ‘what can we do to speed this thing up?’”
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Previously, it was reported that masks didn’t provide enough protection, but Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Philip Huang said new information about asymptomatic people spreading the disease has changed that notion. Huang added the new recommendations are mainly in place to keep people who are positive for COVID-19 but don’t show symptoms from spreading the disease.
Jenkins said he is going to follow the guidelines of medical experts as new information becomes available.
“This is not a time for a group of elected officials to sit around a table and decide how much of science they want to listen to and how much of science they don’t want to listen to,” Jenkins said. “It’s a time to take the information, whether it’s new information or a change from the old information and act decisively and implement it effectively so we can just get this over with.”
Jenkins also said the new order does not mean people should go out and buy masks because there is a shortage right now.
He brought in examples of things you can use from around the house such as a pillowcase, a scarf or a bandana. If these items are not readily available, he suggested cutting a 27×27 inch square of fabric and fashioning it into a face covering.
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To ensure the mask is doing its job, Jenkins suggested testing it by spraying the mask with water. If the water goes through the mask, then it will not protect you from getting the virus. Another test can be done by putting the mask on and lighting a match or lighter. If you can blow out the flame, the mask won’t work.
Jenkins said the county will work with service providers to get the homeless free face coverings. He continued that the homeless population should cover their face “to the extent possible.”
“We have to show grace towards everyone,” Jenkins said. “The fact that we have this doesn’t mean on Saturday it’s time to accost people at the grocery store for not wearing a mask or find a homeless person and accost them for not wearing a mask. We’ll go a lot further towards protecting all of us if we encourage rather than accuse.”
Jenkins said there is a group that is actively looking at how to loosen restrictions and begin to open some businesses, but that will depend on two things. First, how fast the county reached its peak, and second, the availability of more testing.
“There is some good news,” he said. “We’re getting more testing and the model is showing that the curve is flattening. But all of this is contingent on us practicing good social responsibility.”
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Two more testing sites are opening in North Texas at Walgreens; one in Dallas County and the other in Tarrant County.
The testing locations at the American Airlines Center and Ellis Davis Field House are increasing their capacity from 250 tests a day to 500. These locations are also loosening restrictions on some testing requirements. People 65 and over will no longer be required to have a fever to get tested, while people with underlying health conditions can be tested even if they are asymptomatic.
Undocumented immigrants can also receive free testing at these locations, Jenkins said.
“It’s absolutely necessary that people who are undocumented get tested if they fall into a high-risk category or they are showing symptoms,” he said. “It’s called ‘public health’ for a reason.”
Dallas County reported 80 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total to 2,066. Seven new deaths were also confirmed today, which brings the total number in the county to 50.