SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — On Thursday afternoon, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra announced that beginning Monday, June 22, Hays County residents must wear protective face masks.

During the announcement, Becerra explained that as of Thursday, there are an additional 210 positive cases of COVID-19 in Hays County — a startling increase in positivity rate.

“This pandemic is far from over,” said Becerra during the conference.

According to the order, all people 10 years or older must be wearing coverings over their noses and mouths inside businesses as well as in public spaces where a six-foot distance is not possible.

There are exceptions to the rule, however, as face coverings will not be mandatory in open public spaces where social distancing is easy to maintain.

Face coverings do not need to be worn in the following circumstances:

  • When engaging in physical activity outside
  • While driving alone or with passengers from the same household
  • When wearing a mask poses greater safety, health or security risks than not
  • While pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment
  • While in a building that requires security surveillance or screening
  • When consuming food or drinks

The judge says he spoke with his constituents and local business owners — who he says support the mask requirement.

He says the local Chamber of Commerce is being asked to help provide support and materials for businesses as they make the change.

This is the first time Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra has issued a face mask mandate since the pandemic. He did not do so even before the governor’s order in May superseded local regulations. (KXAN/Tahera Rahman)

Becerra called out Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during the conference, saying that by reopening business and only recommending social distancing and hygiene measures, it led many to believe the concern was over and they ignored safety.

“The governor believed that by recommending social distancing, face masks and hand-washing, our citizens would take it seriously. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened,” he said.

“There is no coincidence that as we started to relax our practices, we started to see positive cases increase,” said Becerra. “Because I don’t want to go back into quarantine, and because I don’t want businesses to close again, we’ve got to get used to doing the right thing when we’re out in public.”

The judge stressed that the order is also an effort to protect those who are most vulnerable: the elderly, those who are chronically ill and those with compromised immune systems.

Becerra said many who refuse to follow safety guidelines often say that if people are vulnerable to infection or uncomfortable that they should stay home.

“I will not tell our most vulnerable that I will not make our county safe for them. Our vulnerable population also has the right to enjoy the same freedoms we enjoy.”

“I’ve been told that if we make masks mandatory we are trampling on our civil liberties. My answer to that is: our freedoms as Americans comes with responsibility, too. And caring for each other is all of our responsibilities. Wearing a mask while in a place of business is no more trampling on the Constitution than mandating folks to wear a seat belt.”

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way,” Becerra added.

Hays County’s face mask order is set to expire July 20.

Watch the full announcement below: