As McLennan County recorded 50 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday and the state’s daily total surpassed 5,000 for the first time, the Waco City Council extended the mayor’s order requiring masks in Waco businesses.
Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver signed an emergency order Friday calling for businesses to require face coverings for employees and customers. Woodway Mayor Jane Kittner issued a similar order that took effect Sunday, and Hewitt Mayor Charles Turner followed suit. The Waco order is now set to expire July 7, unless continued by the council.
Waco Code Enforcement will enforce the rule on a complaint basis and will issue warnings to businesses before citing them, said Ryan Holt, assistant city manager and police chief. If an unmasked customer becomes irate and refuses to leave, businesses can call Waco police for assistance, Holt said during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“We’re looking for compliance from the businesses,” Holt said. “Under the current declaration, if a person refuses to wear a mask … the business owners and property owners have the right to require the customers to do certain things.”
Six people, including four health care professionals, submitted public comments in favor of the order. Thirteen individuals commented in opposition. The McLennan County Medical Society also submitted a comment in favor of the order.
Waco-McLennan County Public Health District Director Brenda Gray and infectious disease specialist Dr. Farley Verner presented an update about McLennan County’s COVID-19 cases. Gray said the county saw a 1,600% increase in active cases from June 8 to June 22, and is currently averaging 30 new cases per day.
“We are like human atomizers,” Verner said. “Definitely, when you cough or sneeze it’s obvious droplets and aerosols are generated, but it also occurs with talking, and even more with singing or talking or cheering.”
Verner said face coverings stop those droplets and aerosols from being projected, and discourage the wearers from touching their faces. He said while a cloth covering is less effective than a medical mask, they still prevent spread.
“They are not perfect by any means, but they do make a difference,” Verner said.
Verner said people who contract COVID-19 become contagious before displaying symptoms, and about half of patients contract the disease from someone who was asymptomatic.
Gray said test results from more than 1,000 Sanderson Farms employees have not come in yet. She said the seven-day running average of the county’s positivity rate reached its height of more than 8% in late March before falling to less than 1% early last month. Now, the average is again hovering at 8% or 9% of all tests coming back positive, she said.
According to Waco-McLennan County Public Health District figures, McLennan County has recorded 421 COVID-19 cases so far, with 243 of those cases still active. The county has seen 173 patients recover and five die.
13 in critical conditionThirteen people are hospitalized locally, all in critical condition, and the health district is monitoring 613 people. Forty-nine of local hospitals’ intensive care unit beds are in use. However, hospital officials and health district spokesperson Kelly Craine have said the hospitals can readily convert other areas of the hospitals to ICU space if the need arises.
“They can expand their ICU capacity. They have options,” Craine said.
Texas broke a single-day record Tuesday with 5,489 new cases. Statewide, there are 47,436 active cases and have been 2,220 deaths.
“We are seeing this trend going up and up,” Craine said. “COVID is here and it is spreading rapidly. Everyone is being more active now. They are going out more, visiting, shopping and other things. We can’t really attribute this increase to one large event. Households are gathering. We are seeing clusters, and it is just those day-to-day activities where people are in contact with friends or co-workers and passing the virus.”
Craine said she is aware of pushback against wearing masks. But Craine urges everyone to wear face coverings and suggests trying different styles or even bandanas if a particular style of mask is uncomfortable or particularly intrusive.
“There is some pushback,” Craine said. “There was pushback when the smoking ordinance came to be. A lot of people were concerned that would hurt businesses, and it didn’t. In the ‘80s, there was pushback on wearing seat belts. There are certain things that have been done to protect the entire community that caused some concerns, but it was recognized then and it is recognized now that these are protections that keep us all healthy.”
Baylor University and McLennan Community College officials also are requiring masks on their campuses.
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said the county has been trying to schedule a meeting of the commissioners court to discuss the mask order, but a few commissioners are out of town. He said he will not issue a similar emergency executive order to require face coverings for the entire county without taking the pulse of the court first.
“With the orders in place between Waco, Hewitt and Woodway, that covers the majority of the businesses in the county, so they are covered under those orders,” Felton said. “I think 62% or 63% of the county population and 80% of the businesses are covered. But we have a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.”
Felton said the record-setting number of new cases is concerning.
“I am disappointed that the numbers are going up,” he said. “Some of it could be from opening up the economy and some of it is other things, like vacations, family celebrations for graduations, and a lot of other things. But obviously, people are paying attention to these numbers going up, and we know we all have to do a better job taking care of ourselves and others and staying healthy.”
The emergency orders direct business owners to enforce the rule and require employees and customers to wear a face covering when multiple people are in the same space or are engaged in an activity that makes maintaining 6 feet of separation unfeasible.
Waco’s order goes further than Woodway’s or Hewitt’s, requiring anyone age 10 or older to wear a mask when in a public place where maintaining 6 feet of separation would be difficult. Homemade masks, scarfs, bandanas or handkerchiefs can serve as face coverings. No fine or enforcement mechanism is included for Waco’s requirement to wear a mask in public places, and Woodway’s order specifies that individuals will not be fined, just businesses owners.
Any business selling goods or services to the public within city limits must create and post a COVID-19 health and safety policy that includes a requirement for masks, by Wednesday in Waco and by Thursday in Woodway and Hewitt. Failure to post and enforce the policy can result in a fine of up to $1,000 per day of violation.
The orders all include an exception for eating or drinking at a restaurant or bar when patrons are maintaining 6 feet between groups. Waco’s order for individuals also includes exceptions for physical activity outdoors, driving without anyone from another household, pumping gas, operating outdoor equipment or “when doing so poses a greater mental or physical health, safety, or security risk.”
The city of Waco named five finalists Tuesday in its nationwide search for the next Waco police chief, all from outside Waco.
Finalists include Albert “Stan” Standridge of Abilene; Jason Lando of Pittsburgh; Marcus Dudley of Aurora, Colorado; Patrick Gallagher of Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Richard Bash of Columbus, Ohio. The city received a total of 91 applicants from 30 states and two countries before narrowing the field down to the five finalists.
Deputy City Manager Bradley Ford said each of the finalists are expected to visit Waco this week and early next week for interviews. He said the city expects to name a new police chief within the next three weeks.
“I would estimate the chief’s first day on the job would not be until later in the summer since each candidate would need to provide appropriate notice to their employer and relocate,” Ford said in an email.
He said the city had two internal candidates from within the Waco Police Department. Neither was selected as a finalist.
The city hired recruiting firm SGR to search for police chief candidates after Chief Ryan Holt accepted a promotion to assistant city manager in February.
A stakeholder survey was conducted to poll community members and city leaders to determine law enforcement priorities for both the new chief and for the department as a whole, particularity how those priorities relate to all areas of Waco, city spokesperson Larry Holze said.
The city of Waco provided the following information on the candidates.
Albert “Stan” Standridge
Standridge, the city’s only finalist from Texas, currently serves as chief of the Abilene Police Department and has 25 years of experience with the department. He served 10 years with the SWAT team, plus time with internal affairs, and teaches on topics including ethics, leadership and active shooter.
Standridge also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Sam Houston State University and a bachelor’s degree in applied art and science from Midwestern State University.
Standridge was selected as one of the finalists to serve as Amarillo’s next police chief on May 11, according to the city of Amarillo. In a letter to Abilene city officials, Standridge turned down the position in late May, opting to stay in Abilene.
Lando has 21 years of experience with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and is in his sixth year as commander with the department. He has experience in patrol, undercover narcotics, SWAT and as a crisis negotiator.
With a team, Lando helped establish the police bureau’s Procedural Justice Unit, designing and implementing training in procedural justice, de-escalation and implicit bias. They have trained 1,000 police officers over three years. He holds a master’s degree in legal studies from the California University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in emergency medicine management from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dudley has more than 23 years of experience in law enforcement and serves as the Aurora, Colorado, Internal Affairs Bureau commander. He previously served as the investigations bureau commander for the agency as well.
Dudley, the only Black finalist for the city, served in the United States Army Reserves for eight years and served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He was awarded a combat patch, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Southwest Asia Service Medal during his service and also holds a bachelor’s degree in business economics with a concentration in management and finance from Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.
Earlier this month, Dudley was named as a finalist in the Aurora police chief search, according to the Denver Post.
Gallagher has 30 years of experience with the Virginia Beach Police Department, where he serves as deputy chief. He first served in law enforcement with the U.S. Army’s Military Police Corps in Fort Lee, Virginia.
Gallagher is the co-chair of the Virginia Beach Inclusion and Diversity Council and is a lead instructor for the city’s mandatory inclusion and diversity training. He holds a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, both from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Bash, a 31-year police veteran, serves as deputy chief with the Columbus, Ohio, Division of Police. He has served as deputy chief of Homeland Security, patrol and investigative divisions and is now supervising the public accountability division.
In his tenure, Bash has held assignments as a school resource officer, mounted officer, covert and investigative officer, and commanded units including the community liaison officers and the crime lab. He holds a master’s degree in management from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio Dominican University.
The Waco City Council appointed local real estate agent Darius Ewing on Tuesday as the next council representative for District 4, after interviews with eight applicants.
Ewing will be sworn in during the council’s July 7 meeting, which will be Dillon Meek’s last meeting in the District 4 seat. According to the city secretary’s office, Ewing will be the first Black council member to represent District 4, which includes downtown and much of North Waco.
Ewing, a Baylor University graduate, is a portfolio manager and owner representative for Rydell Real Estate and Rydell Capital. He has served on the building standards commission in Waco for a year, the YMCA Junior Board and as a liaison for the YMCA finance committee. Ewing has also volunteered with Greater Waco Young Life for the past seven years.
Meek said he is thankful for each of the eight applicants.
“You are my friends, mentors and neighbors,” Meek said. “I look up to each of you. This was a hard decision for us, and you made District 4 look very good today. I wish all of you could serve, because each of you brings a unique conversation to the table, and you bring unique strengths.”
Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver agreed, thanking the applicants before the council took the vote.
“The diversity as you’ve mentioned is fantastic, but just seeing the level of volunteerism and engagement that we have in our community is really exciting,” Deaver said. “(It is) also exciting to see young professionals staying in Waco and engaging with Waco.”
Ewing said he was on his way home from work when he started to receive congratulatory texts, followed by congratulatory emails. Ewing, 26, said he wants to demystify the workings of local government for the average person, particularly young people and the people of District 4.
“We exist as a city government to serve them,” Ewing said. “That’s the first thing I want to do, increase transparency.”
Ewing, who Meek hired when he was working at Rydell Real Estate, said the two quickly became friends, and Meek encouraged him to apply.
“Dillon is like a big brother to me, and he has been since he hired me four years ago,” Ewing said.
During Ewing’s interview, he said his goals are increasing quality of life across the board for his district by working with neighborhood associations, increasing job opportunities for the district by beefing up public transit throughout the city, and developing more affordable housing.
“Working hand in hand with the city through the development and renovation process helped me increase my knowledge of key city functions,” Ewing said. “Doing so while living with someone who was the coordinator for an initiative with Prosper Waco and another who worked for Startup Waco was also something that inspired me to seek greater civic involvement and continuing to develop our city and our small businesses.”
Ewing said learning about city functions taught him local government had more direct influence on his life than any form of government. He said he has friends and colleagues who have left Waco for bigger cities. Ewing said he grew up poor despite his mother working full-time, an experience he will carry with him into his new role.
“From an economic perspective, I would love to see opportunity increase for the citizens of Waco and District 4 specifically, first acknowledging that we have the capacity in Waco to employ more people with well-paying jobs,” Ewing said.
He said the city’s pre-pandemic 3% unemployment rate and nearly 30% poverty rate point to deeper issues. “I know I don’t need to tell you this, but the majority of that 30% is made up of people of color,” Ewing said.
Ewing said as a Black council member, he would have an advantage when it comes to building trust in his district, which is one of the most diverse in Waco.
“I’ve learned there are certain gaps that are more easily bridged by someone who looks like you and who shares the same cultural experience,” Ewing said. “So, all this to say I believe there are bridges waiting to be built between the city and its constituents that haven’t been built, and it’s not for lack of trying and trying in an honorable way, simply from a lack of representation.”
Ewing was selected over Kelly Mariah Palmer, a Baylor University social work lecturer and a social worker with Communities in Schools; Rick Victor Allen, a case manager at Veterans One Stop; Haydn Ross Harris, who serves on the Waco Plan Commission; Jose Rafael Villanueva, a self-employed attorney who has spent years serving on various city commissions; and Austin Adamson Meek, a radio host on 103.3 KWBU-FM who works in franchise development at Neighborly, with no relation to Dillon Meek; and Stephen V. Willis, a local contractor who specializes in historic preservation.
Jason Paul Ramos, director of Impact Waco for Antioch Community Church, withdrew his application while the council was in executive session making a decision.
Dillon Meek is running for mayor and is stepping down from his District 4 council seat because he moved out of the district, expecting the mayoral election that was delayed because of COVID-19 to have passed before his move.
The May city elections have been pushed back to Nov. 3.
The District 4 seat also will be up for election at that time, and Ewing said he plans to run. The seat will come open yet again in the May 2021 election.