LEANDER, Texas (KXAN) — A new social media challenge began in Williamson County Thursday to encourage people and their community leaders to show themselves wearing face masks, as new cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations surge in their communities.
Christine Sederquist, who represents place four on the Leander City Council, created what she calls the #MaskUp challenge. Her appeal came in a video posted on Facebook Thursday morning, where she asked neighbors and other elected leaders to share pictures of themselves in their masks.
During an interview with KXAN’s Will DuPree, she said leaders can particularly set a powerful example for others by publicly displaying how they’re protecting themselves and others from contracting the novel coronavirus by simply putting on a face covering.
“This is a big change for everybody going out and wearing masks. It’s not something that we’re used to. Psychologically, there’s something to seeing everybody that you know doing something different, so we need to normalize it,” Sederquist said. “As an elected leader, I think it’s our duty to sort of be the ambassador for change. I think we need to step up and just start showing our community it’s okay to wear a mask. It’s normal to wear a mask.”
Williamson County reported 116 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday alone, which is a record daily increase for that area. In total more than 1,600 people tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus since tracking of numbers began earlier this year.
In Leander specifically, the Williamson County and Cities Health District dashboard reported that 52 people are currently considered “open cases” of COVID-19, while 58 others have recovered from it.
Unlike the City of Austin and Travis County, though, neither Williamson County nor any of its communities has mandated that businesses require masks for customers and employees.
KXAN reached out Thursday to various county and city officials to gauge interest in potentially taking similar action toward businesses, but the responses indicated that no new local orders would come yet.
Connie Odom, the county’s public affairs manager, directed KXAN to comments made by Judge Bill Gravell during the Williamson County Commissioners Court on June 16. He encouraged people to keep using “common sense” to stay safe from COVID-19, but did not mention masks specifically.
“In the last week, we passed the milestone of our 30th resident dying because of COVID-19 and so it is still a very serious disease and pandemic that we deal with,” Gravell said, “but I think that we have learned that common sense really plays a big role in protecting each other and protecting one another.”
He also directly addressed the decision by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe to make businesses there enforce the face covering rule.
“There are no actions that this county judge can take or this court can take that would be any greater than what the governor of the state of Texas has taken,” Gravell said during his comments. “I was forwarded the court order issued yesterday by the Travis County judge. Though I respect that greatly and I appreciate his input, the reality is the county judge has no power or authority over the governor of Texas, so to put together a subsequent order, in my view, would just be a waste of good time and resources.”
However, Leander Mayor Troy Hill wrote in a text message Thursday that the city is looking at “different scenarios” when asked about mask enforcement.
“Leander doesn’t have a tremendously high number of infections now,” Hill wrote, “but numbers are rising so we are looking at options.”
No other details could be shared at this time.
The City of Round Rock shared a statement from Mayor Craig Morgan, which he recently sent to people who asked about a local order mandating businesses to require masks.
“The City of Round Rock has consistently recommended all residents, employees and patrons alike follow CDC best practices for slowing the spread of COVID-19 as we work our way through this pandemic,” the mayor’s statement read. “Compliance with these recommendations, including mask wearing, remains a matter of personal responsibility.”
Morgan’s statement continued:
“Requiring individuals to wear a mask is virtually unenforceable. Putting law enforcement or businesses in a position to require mask wearing is not feasible. Currently, the City has opted to not issue orders, but will strongly encourage all people to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible, especially when gathering in close proximity to others when out in public. Additionally, we encourage businesses to voluntarily require employees and customers to wear masks when social distancing is not feasible.”
Cedar Park Mayor Corbin Van Arsdale signed a new order Tuesday providing guidance about “access to and occupancy of certain facilities and premises” during the ongoing pandemic.
In particular the order stipulated that anyone attending a public event, like a City Council meeting, would now have to answer questions about symptoms and get their temperatures checked by a city employee. However, face coverings are not required.
There is also no mention about masks anywhere in the order.
During their meeting Tuesday, members of the Georgetown City Council discussed tying mask regulations to the positivity rate for COVID-19 tests locally.
While the members did not vote on the issue this week, a city spokesperson told KXAN that Georgetown city leaders are currently considering options given the increase in cases and hospitalizations in Georgetown.
Staff members are currently working on drafting a recommendation, and additional requirements around masks is expected early next week.