Bexar County Republican chair Cynthia Brehm. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County Republicans gathered at City Hall Friday to criticize local leadership for their stance on wearing face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Mayor [Ron] Nirenberg and County Judge [Nelson] Wolff, they asked us to wear masks,” Bexar County Republican Chair Cynthia Brehm said Friday. “And according to Attorney General [Ken] Paxton, he said this is unconstitutional. The 10th Amendment says that whatever is relegated to the states and to the feds is theirs, but outside of that, it belongs to the people. So if we don’t want to wear masks, it’s our choice. This is America and we shouldn’t have to be forced or mandated to wear a mask.”

The City and County emergency orders no longer include a mask requirement, but “strongly encourage” residents that are 10 years old or older to wear one in public spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained. Gov. Greg Abbott prohibits local entities from enforcing mask requirements, but also has been encouraging Texans to wear them.

“Texans always get the job done, especially when we work together,” Abbott said in a video tweeted on Friday. “As we safely open up our state, we need to unite as one Texas to contain COVID-19 and get Texans back to work. If you go out in public, stay 6 feet apart from others, wear a face covering, and wash your hands regularly. Be a good neighbor. Be a Texan.”

Brehm did not return emails or calls requesting comment, and the Republican Party of Bexar County did not provide comment in time for publication. A post on the Republican Party of Bexar County Facebook page accused the San Antonio Current of “ignoring facts” in an article about Brehm’s statements.

In the post, the unidentified writer claims that the severity of the coronavirus pandemic has been exaggerated by Nirenberg and Wolff, and asked for more details on those who have died from the coronavirus and how many cases have presented without symptoms. 

“For these reasons I believe the so-called leaders are not leading by facts, but are pushing their fear-mongering agenda,” the Facebook post reads. “We live in a healthy society compared to many nations around the world.”

Brehm also claimed Friday that the crisis was a partisan strategy.

“All of this has been promulgated by the Democrats to undo all the good that President [Donald] Trump has done for this country, and they are worried,” she said. “So take off your mask, exercise your constitutional rights, stand up, speak up, and vote Republican.”

Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party, said Saturday that Brehm’s comments were another in a line of Republican leaders not taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

“Texas already ranks first in the nation in coronavirus spread,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “Simply put, comments like the ones Chairwoman Brehm made will kill more Texans. Encouraging Texans to remove their masks and ignore the fatal consequences of this pandemic will jeopardize the health and wellbeing of all of us.”

Nirenberg said Saturday that leaders across the political spectrum have been affirming the “objective science of wearing a face covering” when social distancing cannot be maintained. 

“This isn’t a partisan issue,” he said in a statement. “We have to look beyond politics and trust our health experts.”

Brehm is currently in a runoff against candidate John Austin for her position in the county Republican party. She is serving her first term as chair.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.