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Denton drops mask mandate following CDC community guidelines

Denton drops mask mandate following CDC community guidelines

Denton drops mask mandate following CDC community guidelines
March 24
12:30 2022

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated COVID-19 community guidelines, the city of Denton rescinded its mask mandate in early March after a years-long disaster declaration.

“The city of Denton and Denton County no longer fell into a category where the CDC recommended universal indoor masking,” said Stuart Birdseye, Denton’s Deputy Director of Customer Service and Public Affairs.

The county is now under the CDC’s “medium-risk” category, said Birdseye. The ranking is based on recent hospitalizations and COVID-19 infections in a given community. As of March 22, there are 7,696 active COVID-19 cases in the county, according to the Denton County Public Health COVID-19 dashboard.

“In that category, universal use of indoor masks is not something that’s recommended,” Birdseye said. “[The CDC] recommends that persons only in counties in the high-risk category wear face coverings indoors.”

More than 90 percent of the U.S. population is in the low-risk category, according to a March 3 CDC statement.

Denton’s face covering mandate, which was introduced in August 2021, required all government entities to enforce masks in indoor “common areas,” including police stations, classrooms and the city council building. Since its introduction, the mandate was updated frequently to reflect the most recent data and guidelines from the CDC, said Birdseye.

“We followed CDC recommendations from the beginning of the pandemic and continue to do so,” Birdseye said.

On Feb. 17, Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to then-Interim City Manager Sara Hensley, threatening legal action if Denton did not end its mask requirements by Feb. 22. When the mandate remained, Paxton sued, and the city then countersued to keep the mandate. The lawsuits are still active as of March 20.

Paxton’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

The mandate was already scheduled to be reviewed and expire on its own at the end of the month on March 31. City Council member Deb Armintor said the unanimous decision to end the mandate early on March 2 was not based on Paxton’s threat but solely on the CDC’s new guidelines.

“Everybody agreed that it was time to end it,” Armintor said. “We’re not trying to play armchair epidemic epidemiologist or anything, just following CDC’s guidelines.”

The Office of the Attorney General released a statement celebrating the mandate’s end and claimed it as a victory of Texas law, specifically Governor Greg Abbott’s March 10, 2021 executive order GA-34 preventing mandates in the state.

“The city of Denton has realized that no one can defy the law, including rogue cities and school districts,” said a quote in the statement attributed to Paxton. “I will always fight to uphold Texas law and to ensure that governmental entities are held accountable to it.”

Armintor said Paxton was continuing the “ridiculous” lawsuit to get his name in the media during an election season and not because it was a pressing legal issue.

“It seems to me to be a political stunt,” Armintor said. “It is fully within the city’s right to [have a mask mandate].”

Other Texas entities also decided to end their mandates following the updated CDC guidelines, including Dallas County and some school districts across the state. While the mandates have ended for some, private businesses are still allowed to require masks without facing legal consequences.

“Many people, including myself, want to have some confidence that they are doing as much as possible to keep themselves and others safe from illnesses of all sorts,” said Kim McKibben, owner of local business Aura Coffee.

Aura Coffee requires all customers to wear face masks when not eating or drinking as a personal “dress code,” said McKibben.

“Many people, including myself, want to have some confidence that they are doing as much as possible to keep themselves and others safe from illnesses of all sorts,” McKibben said. “If someone does not want to wear a mask, there are other places near our location they can visit.”

Denton residents are also still able to wear masks wherever they please, regardless of if a mandate is in place or not.

“It’s always been a personal choice,” Birdseye said. “We’re not saying that we do not recommend wearing masks, or that people cannot wear masks, the CDC has just changed their recommendations.”

Featured Image: A sign on the door of the Union encourages masks inside the building on Feb. 27, 2022. Photo by Sonia Huerta

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Alex Reece

Alex Reece

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