After commissioners in a North Texas county ignored citizens’ pleas and authorized extending the county’s mask mandate to February 28, Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West called on the Texas Legislature to act against executive overreach.

On Tuesday morning, by a vote of 4 to 0 (Commissioner Roy Brooks was absent), commissioners in Tarrant County authorized their spokesman—County Judge Glen Whitley—to extend the county’s mask mandate until February 28. This was done by renewing the county’s declaration of emergency.

“Without the emergency declaration, I cannot issue the orders,” Whitley said.

Texas is still under a statewide mask mandate imposed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Whitley previously said he would ask Abbott for permission to fine those not wearing masks.

The extension came despite citizens testifying against it in person and by phone. In a reversal of prior meetings, Whitley would not read comments submitted by citizens who did not attend, and at least one citizen complained of changes to the deadline to sign up to speak.

Republican Party of Texas Chairman Allen West told Texas Scorecard it was time for the state legislature to end mandates and executive overreach.

“Sadly, we have elected officials seeking to rule over us by orders, edicts, decrees, and mandates which are usurping our individual rights, freedoms, and liberties,” West said after the vote. “It is vital that executive overreach is a priority in the 87th Texas Legislative Session. We must return to being governed by laws passed by a legislative body.”

Government exists to protect our rights, not to protect our health. That is an individual responsibility.

Jeff Cason, who won the election to replace outgoing State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R–Bedford) in January, agreed.

“All executive powers will be under review this upcoming session,” Cason told Texas Scorecard. “This will include a sober examination of local and statewide authority under the disaster declaration.”

Citizens expressed their opposition to the county commissioners.

“I was born in the ’70s in communist then-Czechoslovakia,” said immigrant Zrenka Duran. “At the age of 3 and 5, [I was] in the camp for children. My doctor decided I was underweight.”

Duran recalled how she was force-fed and her face forcibly covered at night. When she asked her father why he sent her there, his reply was, “It is what I was told by the doctors.”

“As a medical professional, it pains me to see our rights violate[d],” she said. “Face masks were never designed to be worn all day long.”

Irwin Morgan, another concerned citizen, said the right approach is to empower citizens, not place mandates on them.

“In order to empower citizens to make the right choice, we have to give them the opportunity to do so,” said Morgan.

Another citizen, realtor Eileen Miller, cautioned there is also a security issue for those in real estate and similar businesses. “People show up in masks, and I can’t recognize them,” she said. “If they attacked me, I couldn’t describe them.”

Others questioned how effective masks are in protecting against the Chinese coronavirus.

“Our own mayor, Betsy Price, and her husband came down with COVID,” said citizen Joe Palmer, recalling how Fort Worth’s mayor is an avid mask wearer.

“If the masks really work, why are we seeing a spike?” a citizen asked.

“Masks do not stop viruses,” former nurse Karen Starnes said. “I know so many people who have obediently worn masks and got COVID anyway.”

County Public Health Director Dr. Vinny Taneja shared a study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) claiming mask mandates helped fight the virus in Kansas. Citizen Nancy Gross took issue with the study.

“There were no controls in that study,” she said. “The death rate in the U.S. has not changed this year from previous years.”

One attendee also brought up a recent Danish study that Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine said found “no statistically significant difference between those who wore masks and those who did not when it came to being infected by COVID-19.”

Dr. Simone Gold of America’s Frontline Doctors has also disputed the effectiveness of masks against the virus. “It’s like … using a chain-link fence to keep out a mosquito. It’s totally irrelevant,” she said.

Dr. Taneja also shared a slide that seems to show the mortality rate for the virus in the county is falling.

When it comes to enforcing the mandate, Whitley passed the buck to law enforcement.

In fact, on Tuesday, sheriff’s deputies prevented nurse Karen Starnes from entering the commissioners building without a mask. She cited a medical exemption but was denied entry because she had no written documentation.

Lt. Jennifer Gabbart of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office told Texas Scorecard the district attorney has said commissioners can require masks in order to enter the building. She said in the past month, people who are unmasked have been asked to leave; if they refuse, “they can be escorted out of the building and given a criminal trespass warning.”

“Nobody’s been arrested,” she added.

Outside of county buildings, Gabbart said, “We haven’t had any scenarios where we’ve had to deal with non-mask wearing mandates that have had to result in any kind of arrest or enforcement.”

For citizen Shannon Paul, the time has come to no longer comply with mask mandates.

“It is your duty to practice civil disobedience [of] this mask mandate,” said Paul. “This is a matter of slavery versus freedom.”

The 87th Legislative Session starts on January 12, 2021. Concerned citizens may contact their elected state representative and state senator.

This article has been updated since publication.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.