San Antonio City Council voted 10-1 Thursday to continue and refine Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s sixth emergency order aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus while complying with the Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to start incrementally reopening nonessential businesses.

The new Stay Home, Work Safe order maintains the same rules surrounding social distancing put in place March 23, but allows restaurant dining rooms, theaters, and other retail spaces to open if they choose to.

It makes industry-specific minimum health protocols developed by the Texas Department of State Health Services mandatory as well as the use of face coverings in public, crowded places. In Abbott’s order, those protocols and masks were strongly encouraged, but not required. The governor also stripped from local governments the ability to penalize people who do not wear face coverings where they should.

However, all other parts of the order – such as ensuring that there is no more than 25 percent occupancy in businesses that have reopened – are subject to fines and possible jail time, said City Attorney Andy Segovia.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) voted against the measure, saying that the face covering requirement went above and beyond what the governor ordered.

The way Abbott’s order is written allows for cities and counties to require masks through their own emergency orders; local governments just can’t issue civil or criminal penalties, Segovia said. “Our order is consistent [with the State’s].”

Private property and business owners can, however, require anyone who enters to wear a mask, Segovia said.

If they don’t comply, the police could be called and the situation would be handled like any unruly customer is, he added, and possibly cited for trespassing.

Both Abbott and Nirenberg’s orders – as well as Bexar County’s – last through May 18, and reopened services can begin opening on Friday. The guidance of local health experts indicates that it is likely too soon to start reopening, but they and the mayor are optimistic that residents will continue to maintain social distancing and refrain from non-essential activities to avoid a second wave of increasing infections.

The local orders allow San Antonio and Bexar County to fill in the gaps – such as requiring masks, minimum health protocols, and signs on reopened businesses that display capacity – left unaddressed by the State’s order, Nirenberg said.

“We’re going to mindful of the health data and we’re going to follow it as closely as we are able to with the authority that we have,” he told reporters.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org