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Waco to require masks in businesses, public spaces

Waco businesses must require employees and visitors to wear masks or other face coverings when multiple people are in the same room, according to an order Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver issued Friday night.

The order, effective Saturday, also requires 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 a handkerchiefs can serve as face coverings.

The order mandates that any business selling goods or services to the public within city limits create and post a COVID-19 health and safety policy by Wednesday that includes a requirement for masks. Failure to post and enforce the policy would result in a fine of up to $1,000 per day of violation, according to the order. No fine or enforcement mechanism is included for the requirement that the general public wear masks.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that local governments could create laws requiring businesses to require masks.

The order also comes after a seven-day period when McLennan County’s count of residents with active COVID-19 infections went from 25 to 118 and when the fifth county resident died of the disease. He was a 46-year-old man with no underlying health conditions, according to a city press release.

“At a minimum, this policy must require all employees or visitors to the entity’s premises or other facilities wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which involves close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where 6 feet of separation is not feasible,” the press release states.

PDF: Read the Waco mask order

The order lists several exceptions for the requirement to wear masks, including:

  • When exercising outside or engaging in physical activity outside
  • While driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver
  • When doing so poses a greater mental or physical health, safety, or security risk
  • While pumping gas or operating outdoor equipment
  • While in a building or participating in an activity that requires security surveillance, screening, or identification, for example, banks; and
  • When consuming food or drink.

“Please note that face coverings are a secondary strategy to other mitigation efforts,” the order states. “Face coverings are not a replacement for physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and self-isolation when sick. All people should follow CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations for how to wear and take off a mask. Residents should keep up the following habits while in public: washing hands before you leave home and when you return, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding touching nose or face, not using disposable masks more than three times, and washing reusable cloth masks regularly to prevent the spread of the virus.”

The order recommends medical masks and N-95 respirators be reserved for medical workers and first responders.

5 tips for wearing face masks in hot weather

5 tips for wearing face masks in hot weather

Covid-19 (copy)

A city order also requires anyone age 10 or older to wear a mask in public where keeping 6 feet apart would be difficult.

A new leash on life
Wacoans raising money, forming nonprofit to support HOT Dog Park

Buster and Beano visited their friends Belle and Shadow late Friday morning while Mary walked the perimeter of their 5.5-acre exercise space, all part of normal routines at the Heart of Texas Dog Park.

The four-legged five-some, along with several other dogs, visited Waco’s only off-leash dog park, which their owners called a treasure for Waco residents. That is why they have started a fundraising effort and hope to form a nonprofit group to keep the park running.

“I come out about three times a week, maybe more,” said Alexis Escobar, owner of Buster and Beano. “It’s great to let your dogs off the leash and let them explore safely and get interaction with other dogs.”

Although the park is beloved by pet owners, the future of the property near 4900 Steinbeck Bend Drive remains uncertain. The property’s owner, Dr. LuAnn Ervin, sold the neighboring veterinarian clinic, Texas Animal Medical Center, and has placed the dog park property up for sale as well.

“Dr. Luann Ervin is the owner and has had it since 2011, but she has since retired and sold her vet clinic so we are trying to do as much as we can to take the property off her hands so she can enjoy her retirement,” said Brittany Nesbitt, owner of Belle and Shadow.

Nesbitt and Escobar joined other park users this summer to launch a fundraising effort to keep the HOT Dog Park open to the public, forming the HOT Dog Park Board to unify their efforts.

“We’ve started a nonprofit to raise money to keep the park open,” board President Nesbitt said. “We are raising money for the liability insurance right now and we also need a little bit of money to file with the IRS to get our tax deductible status.”

Esobar, secretary and chair of the communications committee, helped organize a GoFundMe page and has been spreading information on social media this month. To date, the group has raised about $655 toward the $5,000 goal.

“Without donations and support of people who use the park, the park might have to close,” Nesbitt said.

Loyal users rallied support to keep the park open earlier this year, shortly after a closure sign was posted on the gates when Ervin retired. The park as remained open and maintained by volunteers, but financial help is needed, Nesbitt said.

Donald Hoffman, a retired teacher who moved to Waco from the Northeast based on the popularity of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” said he and his wife adopted Mary, a miniature poodle-Maltese mix from Fuzzy Friends Rescue about a year-and-a-half ago. He said he and Mary visit the dog park daily.

“We have a little backyard fenced in, and she will go around all the time. … But for her to be out here, off-leash is a real treat,” Hoffman said. “I’ve given (the fundraiser) $50, because Mary just loves it out here.”

The HOT Dog Park board will host an online discussion forum via Zoom at 3 p.m. Sunday to answer questions about fundraising efforts and about participation in the group. Participants must log into a Zoom account to attend.

More information is available at the HOT Dog Park Waco Facebook page, www.facebook.com/groups/2655190534530588/.

Administrator: University High teacher resigns after racist social media post

A University High School teacher resigned Friday, two weeks after he posted a racist statement on Facebook referencing the Black Lives Matter movement, a Waco Independent School District administrator said.

Rick Fisk had worked for Waco ISD since 2004. When Fisk submitted his resignation, district officials were in the process of consulting with legal counsel to determine whether Fisk’s June 3 post violated the district’s social media policy and to consider any possible disciplinary actions, Waco ISD Chief of Staff Kyle DeBeer said. The post had circulated among colleagues, students and parents in the two days before district administrators were made aware of it June 5.

The post read: “Black lives don’t matter to black people unless killed by a white person. Y’all not ready for this conversation. Y’all kill each other all day everyday.”

University administrators asked Fisk to remove the post, and he complied immediately, DeBeer said.

“I do not know what is in Mr. Fisk’s heart, but I think the post that he shared is racist,” DeBeer said. “It was very insensitive right now or any time, and it is disheartening that this comes at the same time we are really trying to work to create a space where we can have a meaningful conversation about race and racism in Waco ISD.”

Attempts to reach Fisk for comment were unsuccessful Friday, and it appears he had deleted his Facebook page by Friday afternoon.

“I am requesting for no negative remarks to be entered in my file such as not being rehireable so that I may be able to seek other employment,” Fisk wrote in an email to the district regarding his immediate resignation. “I must be assured of this. I was finally able to delete all Facebook files as requested.”

Parents and other teachers had contacted Waco ISD in the weeks since the post went up to express their concerns, DeBeer said.

The post came at a time when Black Lives Matter demonstrations and other prominent protests for racial justice have filled American cities and towns since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 25. The killing of Floyd and other black men and women at the hands of police have contributed to renewed action in pursuit of police reform. There have been at least two large demonstrations in Waco, on May 31 and on June 6.

DeBeer said the social media post was unacceptable and did not reflect the views of Waco ISD. He said Superintendent Susan Kincannon emailed colleagues last week about the deaths of Floyd and others.

“I am grieving for the lives that racism has ended, and I am grieving for the lives that racism has denied the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Kincannon wrote. “I am also committed to doing the work, not just to reject racism in my own actions, but to make Waco ISD an anti-racist organization.”

McLennan County announces 17 more cases as COVID-19 hits Hispanic, black populations throughout US

COVID-19’s rapid spread in McLennan County is disproportionately affecting Hispanic and black residents, mirroring worrying national trends.

17 more people had tested positive for the virus in McLennan County as of Friday afternoon, bringing the rapidly rising total of active cases to 118 and total cases to 262, according to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. Seven COVID-19 patients are in local hospitals, and five McLennan County residents have died of the disease. Texas had confirmed 103,305 cases and 2,140 fatalities as of Friday.

Locally, 49% of COVID-19 patients have been Hispanic, and 20% have been black. Early on in the disease’s local spread, white residents made up the majority of patients. According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the county is about 56% non-Hispanic white, 27% Hispanic and 15% black.

“I’m trying to struggle through what the causative factor is and I just don’t know,” Family Health Center CEO Dr. Jackson Griggs said.

The current wave of infections is composed largely of cases involving members of the same household as others who have tested positive, health district spokesperson Kelly Craine said.

“At this point, what we can tell you is that there is no specific location or event or place or work that’s been associated with it,” Craine said.

Isolating anyone who is suspected to have the virus and stopping them from interacting with anyone else is key. Separating items like towels and toothbrushes is important for families who cannot set aside a designated bathroom for the sick person.

A growing body of evidence is forming around the virus’ toll on Latinos as researchers develop a more advanced data analysis about COVID-19 and race.

This disparity among Latinos is similar to a national trend in African American deaths. An Associated Press analysis has found black Americans make up 26% of the deaths in nearly 40 states that kept detailed death data, even though they comprise only 13% of the population.

Researchers are also pointing out another noteworthy trend emerging in Latino cases. Because Latinos are much younger on average than U.S. whites, and the virus kills older people at higher rates, researchers are using “age-adjusted” data to provide a more accurate picture of the disproportionate toll.

Databank: Virus hits blacks harder, plus maps and more you can use to track COVID-19 spread

A Brookings Institution study this week examined federal data to show the age-adjusted COVID-19 death rate for African Americans is 3.6 times that for whites. The age-adjusted death rate for Latinos is 2.5 times higher than white Americans. A Harvard paper used similar metrics to determine “years of potential life lost,” finding that Latinos lost 48,204 years, compared with 45,777 for African Americans and 33,446 for non-Hispanic whites.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver noted the rising percentage of Hispanic and black patients during a weekly press conference Wednesday. Waco City Councilman Hector Sabido, who co-leads a strategic communication work group focused on getting information about the virus to the population, said the problem is two-fold.

“We’re realizing now more than ever that it just touches so many aspects of life,” Sabido said. “All of us are playing catch-up to this virus.”

Sabido gave interviews with Telemundo and Spanish radio station La Ley 104.1 alongside Dr. Iliana Neumann, who teaches residents at the Waco Family Health Center to raise awareness. They are also planning conference calls with local Hispanic church leaders to try to get the message out.

Sabido said Hispanic households are more likely to include extended family. With right to 10 people living under the same roof, the virus could easily spread.

“They do it out of necessity, coming to the states to try to find a better life and get established, of course they’re going to live with relatives or people they know and trust,” Sabido said.

Neumann said it’s too soon to know why the Hispanic population has been hit so badly, but she is concerned that messaging hasn’t been strong enough to reach Spanish speakers.

“That’s what I’ve been hearing a lot, that they’re not getting some of these messages, that they don’t understand the importance of wearing masks and social distancing,” Neumann said.

Neumann said she believes Hispanic essential workers, particularly immigrants, are in front-line essential jobs and would have to risk frequent exposure. In some cases, bosses make employees feel unsafe.

“I had one of my patients tell me recently that she works at a local restaurant, and she was feeling some pressure from her employer to not wear a face covering, because he thought that would make customers nervous,” Neumann said. “She was worried about speaking up about it. … I’ve been out in the community, and I’m noticing such a huge decline in mask usage. What people don’t recognize is when they’re not wearing masks, they’re putting the front-line workers who are keeping our communities going at risk of getting infections.”

Bigger, longer Juneteenth parade only the start of Waco efforts

Video: Juneteenth explained

Saturday’s Juneteenth parade in Waco not only will celebrate African American history and heritage, but will make some history of its own this year.

The parade will cover a slightly longer route to allow social distancing for parade watchers, feature a larger community partner contingent and be televised over the city cable channel.

It will cross a Washington Avenue bridge decorated by chalk artists with themes of racial injustice and a future of hope and change and, after it finishes, an online social action emphasis will start with eight days of recommended action.

Planners were thinking big when the work for this year’s parade started in February, said Rachel Pate, parade organizer and vice president for economic development for the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce. Their ideas were put on hold as the city and county had shelter-in-place orders this spring to curb the spread of COVID-19, but when they got the green light for a parade, organizers put together much of Saturday’s activities in a two-week span, complete with social distancing and sanitization measures in place.

Juneteenth traditionally celebrates the date June 19, 1865, when Union forces arrived in Galveston after the Civil War to enforce the liberation of slaves in Texas. Protests and rallies for racial equity in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death this year have led to discussions of expanding Juneteenth to a national celebration.

This year’s parade, with the theme of “Listen to the Voices of Change,” will feature more than 60 entries, including Waco City Council members, Waco Police Department and Waco Fire Department leaders, Baylor University President Linda Livingstone and head football coach Dave Aranda, McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College representatives, and District 56 State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco.

COVID-19 precautions kept some school bands and youth dance groups from participating, but the parade will see many businesses and organizations participating for the first time, with floating balloons and oversize puppets among the visual highlights, Pate said.

The parade will kick off at 10 a.m. at Paul Quinn Campus, 1020 Elm Ave., head down Garrison Street to Taylor Street, proceed down Taylor to Spring Street to Elm and Washington Avenue, finishing at Heritage Square. The loop in the parade route should allow room for social distancing for viewers. Both parade participants and spectators are urged to wear masks, with parade vehicles limited to six occupants. Candy will be handed out, not thrown, by gloved parade participants, and cooling and hand sanitizing stations will be set up along the route.

“We have been so conscious of the health element this year,” Pate said.

Chalk artists led by Vincent Thomas and De’Viar Woodson will start working at 5 a.m. to create images on the Washington Avenue bridge pavement that address both racial injustice and a vision of hope and change for the future. The street art project is a collaboration between Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt, Black Lives Matter and Creative Waco.

Saturday also will see the beginning of an eight-day emphasis on social action on the chamber’s website with suggested daily actions including voter registration, census participation, signing a petition for police reform and accountability, contributing to an equity fund for African-American businesses, taking time for self care and more.