QUESTION: Are we still under requirements to limit gatherings to under 100 people? I attended my church this past weekend for the first time in two months and there were at least 200 people there. We were told to wear masks while moving about, but allowed to remove them once seated. That means there were 200 unmasked people singing.
ANSWER: It has been hard to keep up with the ever-changing requirements, but I’ll start with the bottom line here: There are no rules for churches. There are some guidelines, but no requirements.
The governor has issued orders that restrict occupancy to 50% for some organizations and businesses. Churches were exempted from the requirement. At one time, outdoor gatherings were limited to 100 people unless they had special approval from a mayor or county judge, depending on where the event was being held. Since then, the outdoor gathering prohibition has been changed to limit them to 10 people, again excluding churches and some other entities, without approval from the mayor or county judge.
People attending church are exempted from the face mask requirement, too, although the governor’s order still says they are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face covering.
The governor’s office has issued some other suggestions for churches that include leaving every other row empty and keeping 6 feet of separate between families or parties that are sitting together. Read all the recommendations here: open.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/opentexas/OpenTexas-Checklist-Churches-Places-of-Worship.pdf .
Q: I need a phone number and address for the IRS and for Gov. Abbott.
A: Here are a couple of numbers for the IRS: 1-800-829-1040 or if you have questions about the economic impact payments, call 1-800-919-9835. Without knowing more about what you want to mail to the IRS, here’s an address where you may write the organization: Austin Internal Revenue Service; 3651 S. Interregional Hwy 35; Austin, TX 78741.
Here’s a phone number for the governor (although it’s not direct, of course): 1 (800) 843-5789; and you may write to him at P.O. Box 12428, Austin TX 78711-2428.
Q: With Governor Abbott mandating the wearing of masks, and many retailers requiring mask for shoppers to enter their stores, are local officials going to do anything to enforce it? I was in three major retailers today that require masks to get in. At one of the stores, the man that entered in front of me did not have a mask, and walked right by an employee that was there checking the entering customers. Sitting beside her was a security guard. I stopped and asked if masks were mandatory to shop there, and the lady told me yes. I pointed out the man that just walked past her did not have one on. She acted surprised and tried to hand me a mask, asking if I wanted to take it to him. I declined, having heard stories how upset people can become if confronted. Secondly, I noticed shoppers who had masks on when they entered who were shopping with their masks hanging around their necks. There were also numerous people (customers as well as employees) who had only their mouths covered. The lady who waited on me at a pharmacy did not have her nose covered. Until enforcement/consequences of some kind is put in place, we’re going to continue to see this virus spiral upward.
A: In Longview, local officials have said police officers won’t be actively looking for people who aren’t complying with the mask rule or responding to calls from people reporting other people for not wearing masks in public. They would respond to calls from businesses about someone who isn’t wearing a mask and who refuses to leave. That would be handled as a criminal trespass complaint.
The police department and Gregg County Sheriff’s Office have said their focus will be on education and voluntary compliance if they encounter someone not wearing a mask. Written warnings are a possibility, and the sheriff’s office have said a citation might be issued as a last resort.
And yes, folks, the masks are supposed to cover your nose and mouth.