Rob Severance

Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance practices social distancing while wearing a mask during Tuesday’s Cleburne City Council called meeting.

The Cleburne City Council held off on passing mandatory face mask wearing requirements in businesses during their Tuesday called meeting as Burleson, Tarrant County and several other Texas cities and counties have ordered. 

Cleburne council members instead voted to leave such decisions up to individual business, at least for the time being. That may change, Mayor Scott Cain said, depending on increases/decreases in positive COVID-19 cases and other factors over the weeks ahead. City officials, Cain said, will continue to monitor the situation and, if need be, revisit the question of whether to require face masks in August.

“Like we did with earlier [COVID-19 related] orders, we would rather request voluntary compliance rather than mandate,” Cain said. “But, if we don’t see a difference in a few weeks we may have to make it mandatory. As it is right now, we’re not seeing enough voluntary wearing of masks in public at this point.

“I know we can all agree 100 percent that masks suck and nobody likes wearing them. And I know there are lots of opinions on them but I think we can still be kind, respectful and have civil discourse and debate.”

The face mask rule, for now, as passed by council affords business owners two options, both of which require employees to wear face masks. Business owners may require both employees and customers to wear masks. They also have the option of requiring employees to wear masks but not requiring customers to do so. Businesses must post a sign at all entrances informing that customers are required to wear masks or that customers are not required to wear masks.

The order goes into effect today but businesses have five calendar days to decide their course of action and to implement appropriate signage.

The order applies to all commercial entities in Cleburne that supply goods and services. Certain businesses requiring screening and security measures, such as banks, are exempted.

Council members considered, but rejected, the option of allowing businesses to allow neither customers nor employees to wear masks.

Councilman Chris Boedeker argued that while customers have the option to patronize a business or not employees lack the same ability to easily change jobs should they disagree with a business’s mask policy.

Council’s Tuesday vote also grants Cain the power to approve outdoor gatherings where more than 100 people are expected to participate. Gov. Greg Abbott recently temporarily prohibited such gatherings absent approval from a local mayor in the case of cities or a county judge for events in unincorporated county areas.

Event organizers, Cain said, will have to provide guidelines they plan to implement to ensure safety and to stem the possible spread of COVID-19. 

Cain said he conducted conference calls with local business leaders through much of Monday to get their input on the situation and has also listened to members of the community.

With positive COVID-19 cases on the rise in Cleburne and throughout Texas, it’s become clear dealing with the virus has become a “marathon, not a sprint,” Cain said.

Possible reasons for the recent increase in positives may be linked to the Memorial Day holiday, reopening of businesses, the fact that many have grown lax in following safety measure or other factors, city officials said.

To that end, Cleburne will continue to test locally and to rely on data and input from Dr. Michelle Beeson, Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail and other members of the city’s health team. 

In addition to encouraging the wearing of masks, city officials urge residents to continue sanitizing frequently and maintaining social distancing of at least 6 feet. 

The pandemic may linger for another six months to a year and a half, city leaders said.

“We’re in this for the long haul and we have to consider how to keep Cleburne open, keep people employed and how to avoid another shutdown if at all possible,” Cain said. “There’s no silver bullet as Chief Lail has said, but we want to do everything we can to minimize [COVID-19’s] impact.”

Cain urged residents to rely on science and data from reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and John Hopkins University rather than politically charged social media postings. 

Cain also urged those who have frequent interactions with elderly and/or otherwise vulnerable people to take extra precautions.

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