After days of resisting pleas from local leaders, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered residents in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases to wear face coverings in public, or face possible fines.
Counties with 20 or fewer cases can be exempted if they apply to opt out through the Texas Department of Emergency Management. The order is effective starting Friday, July 2.
Back in April, the governor blocked municipalities from imposing fines for not wearing face masks.
Abbott also put new restrictions on outdoor gatherings with some significant exceptions. He suggested this was a necessary step to avoid another shutdown.
Allie Morris is Texas statehouse reporter for The Dallas Morning News. She told Texas Standard host David Brown that most people over the age of 10 are required to wear a mask, if their county has more than 20 COVID-19 cases.
“There’s several exemptions: if you’re exercising; if you have a medical condition that prevents your from wearing a mask; if you’re eating or drinking [or] swimming,” she said.
Religious services are also exempted from the mask requirement. People protesting in public are required to wear face coverings.
The order is a major reversal for Abbott. He had refused to order the wearing of masks, and prevented local officials from doing so. Conservatives have objected to mandated mask-wearing and other coronavirus-related restrictions.
“For Abbott to mandate this, I think it shows what a serious juncture we’re at in Texas with the coronavirus,” Morris said.
Abbott’s order also prevents outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people – a significant step as the Independence Day weekend begins.
Amusement parks and other outdoor businesses are allowed to remain open.
Morris said Democrats have praised Abbott’s new orders, but some say the change comes too late to address the spike in COVID-19 cases in cities like Houston and Dallas.
Conservatives oppose the move, Morris said. One lawmaker likened Abbott to a “tyrant.”
The state Republican Party agreed Thursday to proceed with its planned state convention this month despite warnings from the Texas Medical Association and others that the convention could result in further spread of the virus in Houston, which is already a hot spot.
Web story by Shelly Brisbin.