AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Greg Abbott penned a letter Wednesday to Austin Mayor Steve Adler concerning the city considering additional enforcement of his recent executive order.
Abbott issued the executive order in response to the dramatic spike in cases in the state. Texas surpassed 10,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day Tuesday for the first time, crossing a sobering milestone rarely seen since the pandemic first hit the U.S. in March.
Abbott says in the letter that the city's consideration of additional enforcement to ensure compliance is an "important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)."
"As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advice from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens," reads the letter. "Taking steps to ensure compliance with these Orders, as the City is contemplating, is necessary to protect public health and safety and will reduce the spread of COVID-19."
Abbott's order mandates face coverings in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, something he said cities and counties are not enforcing. “It provides law enforcement with the same tools and strategies when they pull somebody over for not wearing a seatbelt. They have the ability to enforce it, I think they just don't want to,” said Abbott.
Speaking to FOX 7 on Tuesday, the governor said Adler should stay away from the idea of another shutdown, and focus on compliance. “Shutting down businesses and locking people back into their homes is the wrong approach at this time for one primary reason, and that's because we've seen absolutely no effort whatsoever by the Austin mayor to enforce all these rules that have been imposed,” said Abbott.
Several law enforcement agencies said Abbott's new order mandating face coverings is unenforceable.
“There's some legitimate concern right now, with sheriffs across the State of Texas, on the language that the governor used,” said AJ Louderback, who sits in the President’s Commission in Law Enforcement.
The order, which includes several exceptions, said officers are responsible for warning or citing anyone not wearing a face-covering inside a building open to the public, or in an outdoor setting where social distancing is not possible.
People 10 years old and under, those in counties with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases, people with certain health conditions, those who are eating or drinking, and people actively exercising are exempt.
City, county and state officers are asked to enforce it, and according to Louderback, the enforcement issue all comes down to one sentence. “We're supporting the governor on this. It's just, we have some concerns about the order that he's given in the use of the words, ‘we shall not detain,’” he said.
The exact wording in the governor's order reads: "...But no law enforcement or other official may detain, arrest, or confine in jail any person for a violation of this executive order..."
Austin Public Health has evaluated the latest COVID-19 numbers and models and officials say they have some concerns, especially when it comes to the troubling trend of hospitalizations in the area. At its weekly update Wednesday, APH says Austin-Travis County is in Stage Four but that could change.
Dr. Mark Escott said that the seven-day moving average of hospital admissions is at 75. The threshold to move to Stage Five, which is the most strict, is between 70 and 123.
Statewide hospitalizations jumped by nearly 600 and locally Travis County has more than 12,000 confirmed cases.
READ THE FULL LETTER BELOW:
Dear Mayor Adler:
The City of Austin’s consideration of additional enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advice from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens. Taking steps to ensure compliance with these Orders, as the City is contemplating, is necessary to protect public health and safety and will reduce the spread of COVID-19.
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