HOUSTON (AP) — Residents in one Texas city are being required to wear something that covers their nose and mouth when they’re out in public during the coronavirus pandemic — or face a fine of up to $1,000.
Starting Thursday, all people in Laredo over the age of 5 will have to wear some kind of covering, such as a homemade mask, scarf, bandanna or handkerchief, when entering a building open to the public. Residents will also have to cover their mouth and nose when using public transportation, taxis, ride shares or when pumping gas.
The new rule doesn't apply to people riding in their own vehicles or if they are outside for exercise and following social distancing guidelines.
Laredo reported its first four deaths from COVID-19 within the past five days. The city, which has more than 261,000 residents, has had more deaths than Travis County, where Austin is located, which has reported three deaths and has a population of more than 1.2 million.
“Some people feel like we’re infringing on their liberties. But yet safety and lives are first and foremost,” said Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz.
Laredo’s city council issued the mandate on Tuesday. The South Texas city of more than 261,000 residents along the U.S.-Mexico border is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of San Antonio. Laredo is also an important port of entry, with more than two million commercial truck crossings each year.
Residents are being encouraged to use homemade masks and leave medical masks, including N95 masks, for health professionals, said Dr. Hector Gonzalez, director of Laredo’s health department.
There are nearly 4,700 cases of coronavirus in Texas and at least 70 related deaths, according to state health officials.
Others around the country have also been updating their guidance on whether or not to wear some sort of facial covering.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti told his residents on Wednesday to start wearing homemade masks if performing essential tasks such as food shopping. But Los Angeles residents weren’t expected to face fines if they don't comply.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as some other countries, people have to wear a face mask in all public places.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Concerns that too many Houston residents using city parks are not adhering to social distancing guidelines prompted Mayor Sylvester Turner to order all basketball hoops be taken down.
He said 492 basketball goals located in 142 parks will be removed.
“Hated to do it. But health first,” Turner said Wednesday.
YOUTH PRISON TRANSFERS
Texas' youth prison system said on Wednesday it would no longer accept young people transferred from any county jail where someone has tested positive for COVID-19.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department said in a statement that the policy currently applies to jails in Dallas, Harris and Bowie counties, as well as the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, which last week reported someone under the age of 16 tested positive.
Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70