Starting Monday, people in San Antonio and Bexar County must wear cloth face coverings in public spaces.

The new mandate comes as Bexar County’s coronavirus case count reached 918 confirmed cases Thursday. No additional deaths were reported.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff both signed addendums to local stay-at-home orders requiring everyone 10 years and older to wear some kind of mask in public.

“Face coverings help make sure that folks who are carrying the virus and may have no symptoms or mild symptoms don’t pass it on to somebody else,” Nirenberg said.

Those who don’t cover their faces in public places “where it is difficult to keep six feet away from people” could face a $1,000 fine.

“As with anything else, we are relying on the common sense and good nature of the San Antonio community,” Nirenberg said. “We’re already seeing people use masks voluntarily. At this point now, they are mandatory.”

Other cities in Texas, including Austin and Laredo, have already put face mask requirements in place.

Dr. Junda Woo, the medical director of San Antonio Metropolitan Health, said that people should make sure they have washed their hands before putting on or removing their masks. She stressed that wearing a mask does not mean people can be less cautious about how close they are to others.

“It is not a substitute for social distancing,” she said. “That’s a lot more powerful than the mask.”

Though many may think wearing a face mask helps prevent contracting the virus, science shows that masks act more to protect people from the wearer than the other way around, Woo said. She also reminded people to wash their cloth masks regularly.

“If you’re wearing it until it’s moist, then you might be doing more harm than good because [that] warm, moist environment allows bacteria and viruses to breed,” Woo said.

Nirenberg said the order also emphasized the use of cloth masks to save N95 and surgical masks for health care providers and first responders. Those who are unsure how to make a mask can find instructions on the CDC’s website.

Face masks are not required when exercising outdoors, driving in a car alone or with others in your household, when pumping gas, when in a building that requires surveillance such as a bank, or when eating or drinking. The order also exempts masks in instances when wearing one would pose a “greater mental or physical health, safety, or security risk.”

The order requires businesses to provide masks and proper usage training for their employees who work near people within three days. It also limits the number of people allowed into one business at a time to 25 percent of its maximum capacity.

As the Texas Attorney General recommended, the order states that private golf courses may allow people to play as long as no equipment rentals, caddies, or other golf course personnel are involved. Municipal golf courses will stay closed.

Nirenberg used Thursday’s media briefing to announce the formation of the COVID-19 Health Transition Team, which will provide guidance on how to reopen San Antonio’s economy while minimizing coronavirus infection risk. Woo is one of the team members. 

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.