A statewide mask order is now in effect for Texas.
In a groundbreaking move, Gov. Greg Abbott issued the order on Thursday.
This means every Texan is required to wear a mask or facial covering when out in public. According to the governor, the order applies to all counties in the state with more than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The requirement must be followed anywhere where a person cannot socially distance.
However, there are exemptions.
- Children who are younger than 10 years old
- People who have a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering
- People who are eating or drinking or seated at a restaurant to eat or drink
- People who are exercising outdoors or maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household
- People driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver
- Anyone obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal
- Anyone in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water
- Anyone who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged
- Anyone who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged
- Anyone who is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience
- Any person in a county (a) that meets the requisite criteria promulgated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) regarding minimal cases of COVID-19, and (b) whose county judge has affirmatively opted-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face-covering attestation form - provided, however, that wearing a face covering is highly recommended, and every county is strongly encouraged to follow these face-covering standards
"COVID-19 is not going away," said the governor in an announcement published on his social media accounts. "In fact, it's getting worse."
According to Abbott, first-time violators will be issued a warning. If violated a second time, a $250 fine will be issued, said the governor.
The mandate comes one day after Texas hit another grim milestone in COVID-19 cases and reported 8,076 new cases on Wednesday, making it the highest one-day total in the state since the start of the pandemic.
In Governor Abbott's first interview since issuing the order, ABC13 Anchor Tom Abrahams asked him, "Why now?"
Abbott said, "With this skyrocketing number of cases of Covid-19, with the skyrocketing number of people hospitalized every single day in Houston, as around the state of Texas, with a positivity rate of 14 % of those testing positive for Covid-19 we know we cannot continue with those metrics and opening up businesses in Texas."
Abrahams asked, "Why not sooner?" The Governor said, "Because we make decisions based on data as we go along. Remember it was all the way through the end of May that we continued to have a downward trend in our possitivity rate. We went from 13 percent in April all the way down to 4.27 percent in the positivity rate in late May. We also had flat hospitalizations, we had flat number of people testing positive. It was only in these last couple of weeks that we saw a spike in people testing positive."
During a briefing on Wednesday, the city of Houston reported 832 new cases, bringing the total count to 21,123. Four more COVID-19 deaths were also reported.
On Thursday evening, ABC13 will present a one-hour virtual town hall highlighting the concerns of residents, business leaders and elected officials on reopening Texas amid the pandemic.
Abbott is among the panelists for the discussion.
Earlier this week, the Harris County Commissioners voted to extend the recently-issued mask order until August 26.
The order directs any businesses providing goods or services to require all employees and visitors to wear face coverings in areas of close proximity to co-workers or the public.
Judge Lina Hidalgo was forced to self-quarantine after a member of her staff tested positive for the virus. She was tested earlier this week and received negative results.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the judge agrees with the governor's new mandate.
"I welcome the ability to make face coverings enforceable in Harris County," said Hidalgo. "We can't lose sight of the fact that, due to the rapid increase in hospitalizations here, already our hospitals have exceeded their base ICU capacity and are having to implement surge protocols."
She continued on saying, "I continue to advocate for an enforceable stay home order in Harris County, so that we can bring the curve down and give ourselves a shot at reopening successfully."
This week, Hidalgo discussed the county's efforts to flatten the curve, her discussions with Gov. Greg Abbott and her fight for the authority to issue another stay-at-home order after local officials lifted the previous one.
"The governor has taken some steps, which are great and they're necessary [such as] making sure that the bars are closed," explained Hidalgo. "My fear is we don't have any proof that alone will do it. There is no evidence from a community that was on the verge of disaster, and they put the restaurants at 50 percent capacity and suddenly, everything is fine. The only thing we know works is a stay-at-home order, and anything short of that is a gamble on our own people."
When asked if she's noticed a change in behavior from the public after increasing the COVID-19 threat level in the area to red, which means it's severe, she said she's content with what she's seeing, but would like to see more.
"I've noticed some change," explained Hidalgo. "I'm very heartened by the community recognizing that we have to take steps. Now the concern is I know it doesn't have as much of an impact if it's a recommendation as opposed to a requirement, and that's not a knock on the community."