As COVID-19 takes a turn for the worse in Texas, Governor Greg Abott on Thursday issued a statewide mandate requiring the use of face masks for Texans across the state. The order mandates that Texans living in a county with twenty or more positive coronavirus cases wear a mask when they are “inside a business or other building open to the public, as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing is not possible.” Outdoor gatherings of ten or more people will also be not allowed without the approval of local officials. This new order will make Texas one of twenty-two states that has a statewide mandate for the wearing of masks in public.
Governor Abbott’s executive order exempts the use of masks for children under the age of ten, anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, and whenever someone is eating, drinking, driving, or swimming. If someone is caught without a mask on, they will first receive a verbal warning, followed by a fine of $250 for each subsequent violation of the governor’s order.
Governor Abbott’s reversal on his previous stance on masks is an acknowledgement of the steady outbreak of the coronavirus in recent weeks and the continuing unpredictability of COVID-19. Previously, the governor had stated that local officials at the county and city levels could not fine residents who were not wearing a mask out in public. He even went as far as saying that mask wearing was a sign of government intervention on individual liberty. However, the recent spike in cases across the state helped change his perception of what the state needed to do to contain the virus. As the governor said, “COVID-19 is not going away…In fact, it’s getting worse. Now, more than ever, action by everyone is needed until treatments are available for COVID-19.”
Texas reported its highest one day coronavirus case total of just over 8,000 new cases, along with its second highest one day death total of 57 deaths, on Wednesday. Governor Abbott said that these recent numbers revealed a “very stark reality” of what was going on in the state in recent weeks. Last week, Governor Abott ordered bars to be shut down, along with mandating that restaurants reduce their capacity to 50%, down from the 75% capacity that had been originally allowed through the governor’s plan to re-open the state of Texas.
When the coronavirus first started to spread across the United States, Texas, despite its large size, was able to handle the outbreak better and have fewer cases than states like New York. This allowed Governor Abbott to pursue a short lockdown and present a bold plan to reopen the state in May. However, this recent order and the steady increase in cases shows that it will no longer be the case that the state will fully reopen any time soon.
Setbacks like these are frustrating. However, it is important that everyone stays the course and does what is necessary to ensure that they are not helping to spread the coronavirus. By taking action today, Governor Abbott is laying the groundwork to ensure that Texas can remain healthy and open tomorrow.