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Area mayors expect mandatory mask order to be extended

Mid- and South County’s four mayors were not surprised by the recent mandated mask order set forth by Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick.

In fact, Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie said he is happy about the mandate.

“If you’ve seen my statements in the past, that’s what I’ve been saying is needed all along,” he said.

Bartie is a vocal advocate for requiring masks while in public settings.

“If we continue down the path we are on, we are headed to a shutdown again,” he said. “Incidents, history, circumstances, they repeat themselves. Doing things the same and expecting different results is insane. We’d be insane to continue doing what we’ve done since May and expect the results to be different.”

Branick’s decision was not passed by the local mayors prior to its public declaration, but Bartie said that does not faze him.

“It didn’t surprise me that I wasn’t included,” he said. “(Branick) doesn’t need an OK from me, just like I don’t need an OK from him to make decisions for my people. This is what we need and I’ve been saying this all along. I’ve been in support of wearing masks because I’m listening to the scientists and everything they said would happen is happening. I’m glad the county judge stepped up and is taking the cautious route.”

Branick’s order went into effect Wednesday at noon and expires at 11:59 p.m. June 30.

Bartie said businesses and residents should expect that order to be extended.

“Do you think anything’s going to change by Tuesday?” he said. “These numbers are increasing everyday. That’s a no-brainer. People just accept it better in small increments, so it’s understood to do seven days at a time.”

The mandate states individuals cannot be fined for not wearing a mask, placing the responsibility on businesses and law enforcement.

“I haven’t been included in any law enforcement meetings,” Bartie said. “However, they do have the power to enforce the wearing of a mask for individuals. If they are out of compliance, they can issue a citation. They can’t go to jail, it’s a non-arrestable offense, but should you fail to appear in court, it can land in jail time.”

A citation is an official summons requiring an appearance in court. It is not a fine.

“If you don’t need to leave home, stay home,” Bartie said. “People need to take responsibility for themselves and others.”

Nederland Mayor Don Albanese echoed Bartie’s sentiments.

“I was expecting (the order) because of the upswing and amount of individuals with the virus right now,” he said. “I’ve read all the stuff (Branick) comes out with, we’ve had many meetings but none one on one.”

Albanese said he sees the order staying in place for several weeks, if not an entire month.

“They are having trouble around the state with people following the rules, but I do think it’s necessary, especially in enclosed businesses where people gather,” he said. “The virus is airborne, so it can be anywhere.”

Albanese said local law enforcement has not started enforcing the order as of Thursday.

“A lot of it is policed by the store or the proprietor,” he said. “Our local law enforcement has not gotten involved where they have to issue citations, yet.”

Port Neches City Mayor Glenn Johnson, who left the state Sunday, had not heard of the order until The News called Thursday morning.

Johnson, although surprised, gave his unwavering support of Branick’s decision.

“I support whatever he does,” Johnson said. “He makes decisions based on facts. He is an intelligent man and I’ve always supported his judgment and whatever he does.”

When asked about his thoughts on the mask mandate, Johnson simply said, “It can’t hurt.”

“It’s kind of like how do I feel about using hand sanitizer or staying 6 feet apart?” he said. “It doesn’t hurt. If it’ll help, why not? I wear a mask myself. Until we can get this thing under control, then we need to do what we need to do.”

Groves Mayor Brad Bailey said the order “is what it is.”

“A lot of people are saying ‘second wave, this and that,’ but there’s no second wave because the first one never stopped,” he said. “It’s not a wave. It’s a forest fire. I don’t think there ever won’t be a presence. It’s like the flu season; it has its peak and its low season, but it’s never really gone. It’s just something we’re going to live with.”

Bailey said as a mayor, he did not have a say in the mandatory mask policy.

“For now, if the judge says that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we need to do,” he said. “I’ve heard several companies say they can’t even get masks right now. So do I think it goes past this week? I hope it doesn’t, but everyone is looking at numbers and statistics and the judge will make what he thinks is the best call. Til’ then be cautious. Stay inside your circle and social distance.”