AUSTIN (KXAN) — In July, the Austin City Council approved the Austin Public Health’s Health Authority Rules in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. The rules included a requirement for everyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public. If found in violation, people could face a mask fine of up to $2,000.
Over the past couple of weeks, reports show only one fine has been issued. KXAN is waiting to get reports from this week, but Austin Police Officer Michael Bullock said that is not out of the ordinary.
“It’s never risen to the occasion, in my experience or any other officer that I’ve talked to, where we’ve had to write a citation,” he said.
Bullock said that’s because rarely do people not comply once they see a police officer, and other times when they show up to a call the person without a mask has already left.
“It does happen because of the nature of our call system,” he explained. “We have active disturbances, crashes, stuff like that require a more prompt response from us than the mask violations.”
Austin Mayor Steve Adler understands. He knows enforcement is tough, especially when there are not enough police officers. For him, the goal is education.
“We have the fines and we can use them and they’re there for a reason, but it’s better not to. It’s better to have a community to expect that of themselves and one another,” Adler said.
He believes the rules are working. In mid-July, Austin was seeing more than 500 new COVID-19 cases a day. Lately, cases are back down under 200.
However, Adler said this is not a time to loosen up those masks strings. He said the community must remain vigilant.
“I’m getting nervous now that our numbers seem to be plateauing, that means that people are relaxing and that there isn’t a need for them to wear masks anymore,” he said. “That is not true.”
The rules are set to expire by the end of the year, but Adler believes people will be wearing masks until there is a vaccine.
On Aug. 4, Travis County Commissioners approved adopting Austin’s rules. The rules go into effect Friday. Those who violate the rules in unincorporated areas of the county could face a fine of up to $500.