Mask reporting hotline enforces Waco compliance

Student calling the mask tip line. Photo illustration by Emileé Edwards | Photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

Following Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order No. GA-29 on July 2, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District began enforcing the wearing of face coverings through a reporting hotline. The number is listed under “Waco Business Concerns” on their website.

Chris Randazzo, code enforcement department supervisor, said the hotline is intended for businesses and retail centers, not individuals. He said there have been 115 complaints so far: 61 in July, 36 in August and 18 in September. Out of these, only one has resulted in a citation.

“We really are pushing communication,” Randazzo said, “Asking if they are aware of the order? Are there signs up? Are they requiring customers or visitors to wear masks? We are trying to be as educational as possible to get everyone to comply.”

Randazzo said when they get a complaint, they add it to the record and send an investigator to the site. From there, they determine the extent of the noncompliance and proceed with a warning or citation. Since they are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., any after-hours reports go to Waco PD.

“For the most part, it’s been really positive,” Randazzo said.

He said he hopes the decrease in reports over the past three months means that it’s working and people are starting to comply.

The hotline was set up back in March and was originally intended for business related issues regarding COVID-19 shutdowns, Randazzo said. As part of a “collaborative effort” with Waco after the order was released, the health district was tasked with mask enforcement. They then implemented the hotline within the city limits.

The punishment for noncompliance, according to the order, is a “verbal or written warning” upon first offense and a “fine not to exceed $250” on each subsequent violation. Randazzo said the Waco hotline is intended to help enforce the guidelines and hopefully decrease the amount of needed citations.

“The priority is to keep the numbers down for sure,” Randazzo said. “The spread is proven … We will keep it up until the medical community thinks it’s under control. We are here for the long haul.”

Randazzo said he knows “nobody really enjoys wearing” masks, but the goal is to “get back to normal.” He said if a business isn’t abiding by the order, it might be hurting the recovery process, so the hotline is important to enforce face coverings to stop potential spread.

“We don’t want it to turn into a negative thing where we are the ‘mask police,’” Randazzo said. “We would rather inform you and educate you. The more we all jump on board and comply with [masks], maybe we will get out of wearing them sooner.”