Texas Gov Issues Mandatory Face Mask Policy In Every County With 20 or More COVID-19 Cases

On Thursday, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a statewide order requiring all Texans to wear face masks in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases.

The order will not affect roughly 70 rural counties of Texas' 254 total counties. However, more counties could be excluded depending on their current number of COVID-19 cases.

With his order, Abbott also issued a proclamation allowing mayors and other city officials to impose restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 10 people.

"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 statement.

"If Texans commit to wearing face coverings in public spaces and follow the best health and safety practices, we can both slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep Texas open for business," Abbott said.

People can go without a mask if they're eating, drinking, swimming, exercising a safe distance from others, driving in a car alone or with household members, giving a speech, attending church, under the age of 10 or having a medical condition that prevents one from wearing a mask.

First-time violators of Abbott's order will get a warning. Repeat offenders will receive a $250 fine. The order specifically says that no one is to be arrested or jailed for not wearing a mask.

In mid-June, nine Texas mayors representing the state's biggest cities sent Abbott a letter asking him for the "authority to set rules and regulations" requiring face masks during the ongoing pandemic. At the time, he demurred, saying he didn't endorse legal penalties for non-mask wearers.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Texas Governor Greg Abbott announces the reopening of more Texas businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference at the Texas State Capitol on May 18, 2020 in Austin, Texas. Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty

On June 26, Abbott issued an order requiring bar closures statewide. The order also required restaurants to operate at 50 percent capacity rather than the 75 percent capacity originally specified by the state's reopening plan.

"As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10%, the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars," Abbott said on June 26.

Bars that reopen in defiance of Abbott's order could potentially lose their business and liquor licenses. Two Houston bars that defied Abbott's shutdown order, Prospect Park and Bokeeters Cocktail Bar, both had their licenses suspended for 30 days.

Prospect Park was also placed on Democratic Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's "Wall of Shame" meant to deter non-compliant businesses. However, bars can contest the revocations in court.

As of July 2, Texas ranks third among the U.S. states with the highest overall number of confirmed coronavirus cases. On July 1, the state reported over 8,000 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, its all-time highest daily toll. Texas has averaged around 6,000 new cases each day for the last week.