AUSTIN - A statewide face-covering order is now in effect for Texas. People must wear a mask over their nose and mouth in public space in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases.
Governor Greg Abbott issued the new executive order on Thursday ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Abbott's order goes into effect 12:01 p.m. Friday, July 3. The mandate comes after local leaders pleaded for a statewide order. Up until now, the governor had allowed cities or counties to require businesses to require masks.
"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,” said Governor Abbott in a statement. “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."
A verbal or written warning can be issued for a first-time violator of the maks requirement. A person’s second violation can result in a fine of up to $250. Local law enforcement can issue warnings and fines, but cannot arrest or jail people.
There are also several exceptions to the order, including kids younger than 10, people with disabilities, people exercising, restaurant patrons, and those who are at a place of worship.
"We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error. If we want to avoid lock downs, if we want to protect those we care about, we need all Texans to join this effort," said Gov. Abbott.
Gov. Abbott also issued a proclamation giving mayors and county judges 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.
"Large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Restricting the size of groups gatherings will strengthen Texas’ ability to corral this virus and keep Texans safe," Gov. Abbott added.
Texas hit a record of more than 8,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. It was also the second deadliest day of the outbreak with 57 new deaths reported, bringing the total confirmed death toll to at least 2,481.
"The positivity rate surged from 4.5% in May to more than 14% today," Abbott said.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a leading vaccine researcher at Baylor College of Medicine says the statewide mask order is a no brainer; the question is whether it’s enough to stop the rapid spread of the virus.
"I wish he had done it on May 1st. It would’ve had more of an impact. Given the rate of acceleration that we're seeing here in Texas, I think there's a good probability that we're going to have to implement some additional measures in the following week or the week after that," said Dr. Hotez.
Nearly 7,000 people with COVID-19 are now hospitalized, meaning that Texas is starting July with nearly four times as many patients in hospital beds as on June 1.