Welp, it’s not every day the governor issues an executive order mandating the wearing of face coverings in public places.
In fact, it’s been many, many days since this pandemic kicked off, and on quite a few of those days, the governor minimized the importance of wearing a mask by, for instance, overriding local authorities’ attempts to require it.
But on this day – July 2, as the coronavirus pandemic reaches new peaks in Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott finally pulled the trigger on making face coverings mandatory for most of the state’s citizens. Specifically: Texans are required to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in those counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. (That includes all five counties in the Austin metro area and most others nearby. As of this morning, Travis County reports 10,124 cases of coronavirus, with 7,097 estimated recoveries and 128 deaths.)
The executive order does stipulate some exceptions to the mask requirement. Those allowed to opt out include:
• any person younger than 10 years of age;
• any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
• any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
• any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household;
• any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver;
• any person 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;
• any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water;
• any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
• any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
• any person while the person 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.
Additionally, Abbott issued a proclamation giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of over 10 people, and making it mandatory that, with certain exceptions, people cannot be in groups larger than 10 and must maintain six feet of social distancing.
In a taped message released today, the governor explained that due to a “swift and substantial spike in COVID cases” – one that coincided with his phased reopening of Texas businesses that offered guidance but not mandates on public safety protocols, and little enforcement tools for local authorities – “danger zones have been triggered,” thus necessitating the face covering requirement.
Get caught not complying with the mask rule? First violation gets a warning; subsequent violations risk a penalty of up to $250. “But let me be clear: No one can ever be put in jail for violating this safe practice,” Abbott said. He also stressed that he has not issued another stay-at-home order.
“We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error. If we want to avoid lockdowns, if we want to protect those we care about, we need all Texans to join this effort.”