Under the executive order issued by Abbott on April 27, “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.”
Given that the text of the order does not explicitly specify that only individuals are protected from fines, local governments have—until today—interpreted the order as barring any fine mandating face masks.
Abbott never indicated to local officials that they had the authority to require businesses to mandate face masks with the force of a fine.
In the KWTX interview, Abbott claimed that “there has been a plan in place all along” to allow businesses to be fined by local governments for not requiring face masks.
“It turned out earlier today that the county judge in Bexar County finally figured that out. They finally read what we had written,” said Abbott.
“We want to make sure that individual liberty is not infringed upon by government, and hence government cannot require individuals to wear masks,” he continued. “However, pursuant to my plan, local governments can require stores and businesses to require masks.”
Abbott emphasized that “no Texan can be put in jail for failing to follow these standards,” but did not specify if Texans can be jailed for failing to pay fines for refusing to mandate face coverings on their private property.
The lack of clarity on the subject of mandating businesses to mandate face masks is just the latest in a growing number of mixed messages sent by state officials amidst the pandemic.
With the Bexar County order receiving the approval of the governor, other local officials who have been calling for face mask mandates will likely follow suit.
During his interview with KWTX, Abbott also noted that several variables could have played a role in the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, including gatherings for Memorial Day and the large crowds during the recent protests.
“We do know there have been reports out of Houston that about two dozen or so police officers who were involved in policing the protests have tested positive for COVID-19. We don’t know more information about that yet,” said Abbott.
The governor reiterated the main point from his press conference yesterday that state hospitals are prepared for any surges in coronavirus cases.
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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.