Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order Thursday for Texans to wear face coverings in public spaces in most regions of the state, walking back prior statements on mandatory mask regulations.
The order, effective at noon Friday, calls for all Texas residents in counties with 20 or more COVID-19 cases to wear masks when “it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.” Exceptions include children younger than 10, people eating and exercising outdoors, individuals suffering from medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask and people driving alone.
“Not excepted from this face covering requirement is any person attending a protest or demonstration involving more than 10 people,” a provision in the order reads.
First-time violators of the order will be issued a warning, and further violations may result in punishments not exceeding $250. The order stresses that people cannot be jailed for not wearing a mask.
In a video accompanying the order, Abbott addressed Texas’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases, telling viewers that the virus was not going away and although wearing a mask might not be “the convenient thing to do,” medical studies indicated that it “slows the spread of COVID-19 and it protects you and your family.”
“This requirement is not intended to be punitive,” Abbott said, even holding up a mask emblazoned with the Texas flag at one point. “Instead, we just need everyone to do their part to slow the spread. ... If we want to avoid lockdowns, if we want to protect those we care about, we need all Texans to join this effort. We have slowed the spread before. Working together, we will do it again.”
Abbott’s order is a marked reversal from the governor’s previous comments on masks, where he said he didn’t believe in mandatory mask regulations and that it was “wrong to deprive someone of their liberty just because they’re not wearing a mask.”
The order comes a week after Abbott “paused” Texas’s reopening due to surging COVID-19 numbers and stressed that the state government would be “focused on strategies that slow the spread of this virus while also allowing Texans to continue earning a paycheck to support their families.”
On Wednesday, Texas reported 8,076 new COVID-19 cases ― the highest single-day total in the state since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
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