Understanding when and where you need to wear a mask in Bexar County can be confusing given the different orders coming from the state and from the county and city. So we’re here to clear up some of that confusion and make sure you have a safe – and legal – experience when you’re out and about.

Here’s the gist: Bexar County residents are required to wear face coverings when in public spaces and not able to stay the recommended 6 feet from others. This is a Bexar County mandate. However, if you choose not to wear a face mask, you will not be fined or jailed.

But you might be limited in the places you can go to. Let’s get into that.

Where do I need to wear a mask?

The Bexar County order states that people must wear masks in public places “where it is difficult to keep 6 feet away from other people.” Businesses don’t have to require face masks, but many of them are, including H-E-B.

You also do not need to wear a mask when:

  • Exercising outdoors.
  • Driving alone or with others in your household.
  • Pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment.
  • Consuming food or drink.
  • Wearing a mask would pose a greater mental or physical health, safety, or security risk.

While jogging on a narrow trail, you might pass other runners at a closer distance than 6 feet. If you want to be extra cautious, you can always wear the mask outdoors but it is not required. Make sure you don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, however, and sanitize or wash your hands every time you put on or take off your mask.

Will I get fined for not wearing a mask?

No. Gov. Greg Abbott explicitly said April 27 that local entities cannot penalize people for not wearing face masks. However, the April 29 local stay-at-home orders issued by Nirenberg and Wolff still require people to wear face coverings in public places where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

“The world did not suddenly change with respect to this infection,” Nirenberg said on April 27. “Today, some orders did change from the state, but what is working is social distancing, wearing masks, making sure that we’re limiting public gatherings, and things that we’ve been doing as a community here locally and across the state.”

The local stay-at-home orders say everyone aged 10 and older should wear face masks, but the CDC is recommending everyone over the age of 2 wear them as well.

What kind of mask can I wear?

Any kind of face covering will work. For those who have bandanas lying around the house, now can be the time to strut your cowboy style. Scarves wrapped around your face work well, too.

“My wife has been able to give me some nice scarves that she has to wear around, so be sure to cover the face,” Wolff said.

The CDC also has cloth face covering tutorials on its website. Those without sewing machines or seamstress skills can find ways to fashion face masks out of T-shirts or bandanas there.

If you are using cloth masks when you venture outside, don’t forget to wash your masks frequently, advised Dr. Junda Woo, the director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Using the mask until it’s damp gives bacteria the warm, moist environment it needs to breed.

The City also recommends throwing away disposable masks after using it a maximum of three times. Disposable surgical masks can be reused by storing the mask in a clean paper bag or a breathable material bag – just remember to wash your hands before taking off the mask. Before putting the mask into a bag, fold it so the inside part does not touch the outer half of the mask, Woo recommended.

Does wearing a mask prevent me from contracting coronavirus?

Not entirely. Wearing a mask should not substitute for social distancing, Woo said.

“That’s a lot more powerful than the mask,” she said.

Wearing a mask helps more with preventing the mask-wearer from spreading the coronavirus, Woo said. If you cough or sneeze into a mask, the mask would trap any respiratory droplets inside. And though cloth masks are not constructed to keep out viruses, they do offer a measure of protection if someone were to sneeze or cough in your direction.

Masks serve as an extra barrier, especially for those who may be asymptomatic virus carriers, Nirenberg said. In early April, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield said as many as 25 percent of those infected with the new coronavirus may be asymptomatic.

Other cities in Texas, including Austin and Laredo, have face mask requirements as well.

And if you have eyeglasses, you might want to consider switching from contact lenses to frames for the near future – according to CNN, glasses may provide a small level of protection from coronavirus finding its way to your eyes.

What else should I do to stay healthy?

Stay 6 feet away from people not in your household, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching your face, Woo said.

Jackie Wang

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