Texas border town makes face masks mandatory in some public settings

The South Texas border city of Laredo has ordered people entering public facilities or gas stations to cover their faces — or possibly receive a hefty fine.

The new rule applies when a person is entering a public building, pumping gas, riding in public transportation or taking a rideshare vehicle in Laredo. The ordinance went into effect Thursday and will run through April 30.

Violators could face a fine of up to $1,000. The new ordinance said the mask must cover the mouth and nose, and can be a homemade mask, scarf, bandanna or handkerchief.

The ordinance includes truck drivers transporting goods through Laredo, one of the busiest land ports along the United States-Mexico border. Truck drivers, along with other members of the public, must cover their mouth and nose when entering a gas station, public building or public facility in Laredo.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) said they will not be taking on an enforcement role with regard to the ordinance.

“That’s a city ordinance. So right now, we’re not enforcing it,” said Armando Taboado, assistant director of field operations at the Laredo Field Office, during a conference call Thursday.

Taboado added, “I don’t think it is required for drivers to have a mask on when they are crossing CBP cargo areas. But I may be incorrect. But we’re not putting that mandate on the CBP officers to enforce that drivers come in with a mask.”

Taboado also said CBP officers are not currently required to wear masks at border inspection stations in South Texas.

“We’re in our own facilities. Some officers are wearing protective equipment, but it’s not implemented inside of our cargo facilities. But again, now with everything that’s going on, that might be changing. As of right now, the mask ordinance is only when we’re going into public buildings and so forth,” Taboado said.

Laredo’s new restrictions come at a time when the city has 63 positive cases of coronavirus infection and four deaths — the most in South Texas.

“We’re asking the public to cover their mouths and noses while going to and inside spaces where you have other people,” said Laredo City Manager Robert Eads during a media video conference call on Wednesday. “There is no legal requirement to go out and buy masks. We are requiring you cover yourself with a scarf or bandanna or with a mask if you have it, great. We’re begging you to not search out and seek N95 masks from our medical community. Those should be reserved only for them.”