In a groundbreaking move, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order on Thursday requiring all Texans to wear a mask or facial covering when out in public.
The order applies to residents who are in places where they cannot properly practice social distancing in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases.
The order comes as Texas hit a record-breaking week for the number of COVID-19 cases at one time.
"You've seen the hospitalizations just in the past 10 days in Houston, double, so this is turning very serious," Abbott said on Friday in an interview with ABC13 anchor, Tom Abrahams. "Today, yesterday, the day before. Those three days combined are the three deadliest days in Texas since COVID-19 began. We really need everyone to understand the best way that businesses (can remain) open, that you can continue to function the way you want without having a lockdown, is for people to adopt this practice of everyone wearing a face guard over the next few weeks."
For the first time in a week, the virus spread to new counties in Texas. Of the 254 counties, 246 are now documenting cases. A total of 183,522 cases have been reported so far in the state, with Harris County leading with the most number of cases at 34,108.
Currently, an almost 14 percent positivity rate for COVID-19 exists in the state, according to Texas Health and Human Services.
"As I promised all along, we would always follow the data and be responsive to the data," said Abbott. "After Memorial Day, the trends remained favorable for Texas. It wasn't until the second week in June that things began to get more dangerous."
On Friday, June 26, Abbott announced bars had to close, restaurants needed to reduce to 50 percent capacity, gatherings of 100 people or more would need special permission, and rafting and tubing businesses had to close. And now, everyone over the age of 10 must wear masks in public.
There are, however, some exemptions regarding the mask order.
- 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.
You can read the full order by clicking this link.
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.
READ MORE: Breakdown of mask orders in Harris and surrounding counties
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."
READ MORE: Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo wants authority to issue 2nd stay-at-home order
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.
READ MORE: What to know about Harris County's new face mask order
"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."