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Gov. Abbott Issues Order Requiring Texans To Wear Face Coverings In Public

People wear face coverings while walking along South Congress Avenue on Wednesday.
Gabriel C. Pérez
People wear face coverings while walking along South Congress Avenue on Wednesday.

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People in Texas counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases will be required to wear face coverings when in public starting Friday — and those who don’t could be fined.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order Thursday mandating people wear face coverings over the nose and mouth when inside businesses or other spaces open to the public and when in an outdoor public space where it is not possible to keep 6 feet away from others. The rule goes into effect Friday at 12:01 p.m.

“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a press release. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces."

People who violate the order will first receive a verbal or written warning. Any more violations are punishable by fines of no more than $250. The governor stressed that no one would be jailed for violating the order. 

There are a few exceptions to the rule. It doesn’t apply to counties with fewer than 20 positive COVID-19 cases, the governor’s office says. Additionally, children younger than 10 don’t have to wear mask, nor do people with a medical condition or disability that prevents them from safely wearing one. 

It also says people don’t have to wear them when voting or participating in religious worship, though they are “strongly encouraged” to do so. People attending a protest or demonstration of more than 10 people are required to wear them, the order specifically states.

The governor also issued a  proclamation that goes into effect Friday at noon banning certain outdoor gatherings, unless a local official grants approval. The proclamation adds that, in general, people cannot be in groups larger than 10, with some exceptions, and people must keep 6 feet from others not in their group.

Shortly after the announcement, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said he plans to issue an order banning outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people in the city.

Travis County released a statement saying it will “actively enforce” the face covering order. County Judge Sam Biscoe will also not be approving gatherings of more than 10 people, a county spokesperson said, adding “all such gatherings are prohibited in unincorporated areas of Travis County.”

Local officials have been urging Abbott to make face coverings a requirement in Texas, but the governor had refused to do so, saying no individual should be penalized for not wearing one. Last month, though, he did say local officials could require businesses to mandate masks, so many cities, including Austin, issued orders.

The new requirements come as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surge in the state. As of Thursday afternoon, there are 7,382 people hospitalized with the virus in Texas, a new record. In the last two days, just under 16,000 new cases were reported in the state. The positivity rate (the percentage of tests conducted that come back positive) is now at 13.32%. Abbott has  said a rate above 10% is a red flag.

“Hospitals in various regions in the state are being strained. Already reports from some regions show some ICU units nearing capacity,” he said in a video explaining the new order. “In short, we must do more to slow the spread without locking Texas back down.”

He encouraged Texans to stay home and work from home, if they can, and stay 6 feet from others in public to keep from getting sick. 

This story has been updated.

Got a tip? Email Marisa Charpentier at mcharpentier@kut.org . Follow her on Twitter @marisacharp.

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Marisa Charpentier joined KUT as a digital producer in January 2020. After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with degrees in journalism and Plan II Honors in 2018, she worked as a reporter for Community Impact Newspaper, covering the Central Texas communities of Cedar Park and Leander.