FORT WORTH — Mitchell Blackburn is fed up with being told he has to wear a face covering.
The Tarrant County man wore one Tuesday to be allowed into the room where county commissioners meet every week.
But he removed it when it was his time to speak to the elected officials.
He said he’s “shocked and amazed with how many people are compliant” with the requirement that they wear masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Tarrant County health officials on Tuesday painted a serious picture of COVID-19, and the need for masks to prevent the continued growth of cases.
Blackburn dismissed that argument, saying the virus is “not much more dangerous than the flu” and that cases are on the rise because of increased testing. While the number of tests have increased, so have the percentage of positive cases — the seven-day average has been above 17% since June 20. That number in early April was below 10%.
Blackburn and others said local and state officials have violated people’s fundamental rights with executive orders requiring face coverings.
There have been 15,585 positive coronavirus cases, including 248 deaths, in Tarrant County.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley on June 25 announced that face masks would be required at all Tarrant County businesses and at outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people. The executive order runs through 6 a.m. Aug. 3.
Gov. Greg Abbott followed with a statewide order on July 2. People in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases must wear a face covering while in a building open to the public or outside, when social distancing isn’t possible.
Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks said masks are needed to protect those who wear them — and others nearby.
“Our country is in a national emergency because of the COVID virus,” he said. “And historically, we as Americans have responded to national emergencies by doing everything that we can individually to help out.
“In this case, what we can do individually is to wear our masks, not only for ourselves but for everybody else, to social distance and to wash our hands,” Brooks said. “It is not too big an ask for the American people or for the people of Tarrant County to do everything that you can to help out in this time of national emergency.”
Before the meeting, one woman loudly argued with Whitley about why she can’t wear a mask, citing health issues such as high blood pressure. She said he could arrest her if he had a problem with her not wearing a mask.
Whitley said he wasn’t going to arrest the woman, who identified herself as Janet Jackson of Fort Worth. He ultimately talked to Jackson’s doctor on the telephone.
She and others who didn’t wear masks sat in an overflow room until it was their turn to address county leaders.
When it was her turn to speak, Jackson told commissioners that they were not elected to protect citizens, but to uphold the Constitution.
“You are infringing on our rights,” she said.
A woman who identified herself as Jodi, who did not share her last name and also didn’t wear a mask, said she and others have been traumatized in their past and putting on a mask causes them anxiety.
She said she realizes there’s an exemption for people like her, who have been victims of severe sexual abuse, but she said the “media makes fun of us.”
“If you’re going to do this unlawful order, you need to quit bashing us for not wearing a mask,” she said.
Whitley said he understands that some people can’t wear masks because of anxiety or health issues, which is why an exemption for them was added to the county order. He said anyone in that situation just needs to carry around a doctor’s note saying that he or she should not be required to wear a mask. No reason needs to be listed on that letter, he said.
After the meeting, he told reporters: “I hate wearing masks.”
But after talking to medical officials, he said he learned masks make a big difference.
“We are trying to find a way to flatten the curve without closing businesses again,” Whitley said. “This is a small inconvenience.
“Everybody has their rights. But their rights stop when they begin to impose, in my opinion, on other folks’ rights,” he said. “I think other folks have the right to be safe. If wearing that mask makes them safer, they have the right to expect other people to wear that mask.”
Kyle Cobern of Hurst also spoke against the masks.
He said he’s just a regular guy trying to figure out “the end game here.”
“I feel it’s a violation of my rights,” he said. “Where are we going? What’s the number we have to get to before we say it’s OK to live our lives again?
“At what point do we get our freedoms back?”
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