Governor Greg Abbott has issued a new executive order requiring individuals in most Texas counties to wear a face covering in public spaces.
According to the order, individuals are mandated to wear a face covering “inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.”
The order does not apply to counties with fewer than 20 positive COVID-19 cases.
Law enforcement agents are to give individuals a warning for a first offense, but may fine up to $250 per violation after that.
The following exceptions apply to the order:
- 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 poli 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; or
- 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.
The governor also issued a proclamation giving local authorities 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 ten and must maintain six feet of social distancing from others.”
Abbott’s actions today run directly contrary to his previous stances on face covering requirements.
In earlier orders, the governor had stated, “Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering.”
Then, a little over two weeks ago after Bexar County Judge Wolff issued an order mandating businesses to require face masks, Abbott claimed that “there [was] a plan in place all along” to allow businesses to be fined by local governments for not requiring face masks.
At the same time, the governor stated, “We want to make sure that individual liberty is not infringed upon by government, and hence government cannot require individuals to wear masks.”
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.