Texas governor issues mask order to fight coronavirus

Texas governor issues mask order to fight coronavirus

Texas governor issues mask order to fight coronavirus

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered that face coverings must be worn in public across most of the state, a dramatic ramp-up of the Republican’s efforts to control spiking numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

Abbott, who had pushed Texas’ aggressive reopening of the state economy in May, had previously said the government could not order individuals to wear masks. His prior virus-related orders had undercut efforts by local governments to enforce mask requirements.

But faced with dramatically rising numbers of both newly confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus and the number of patients so sick they needed to be hospitalized, Abbott changed course with Thursday’s mask order. It requires “all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions,” the governor’s office said.

“We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error,” Abbott said.

Texas reported 7,915 newly confirmed cases, a slight dip after zooming past the 8,000 mark for the first time on Wednesday. The 7,382 hospitalizations means the state has more than quadrupled its numbers in that category since the end of May.

The true number of cases is likely much higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest that people can be infected and not feel sick.

Abbott’s action comes as Texans approach the Fourth of July weekend, a time usually marked by gatherings and parties. Along the coast, local officials have said that access to many beaches will be restricted. And a l akeside concert by 1990s rapper Vanilla Ice that was set to take place outside of Austin on Friday was postponed after being criticized for planning to gather hundreds of fans in one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots.

The mask order takes effect Friday and the minimum case count would cover most of the state’s 254 counties and most of the population. Counties with fewer than 20 cases cover mostly rural areas and will be allowed to apply with the governor’s office for an exemption.

Mask order violators can be fined up to $250. There are exceptions for people who have a medical condition or disability, who are exercising outdoors, or who are participating in a religious service or voting. Texas this week began its monthlong early voting period for its primary elections.

Abbott also gave mayors and county authorities the ability to ban outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

In his order and a statement, Abbott said wearing a mask is a proven method to slowing down the virus’ spread and said if Texans comply “more extreme measures may be avoided.”

Abbott has said he doesn’t want to roll back his previous orders to reopen the economy. But last week he moved to reclose bars and limit dine-in capacity in restaurants to 50%.

“We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheque, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces,” Abbott said.

Abbott has been under extreme pressure from both Democrats and Republicans on his reopening plans.

Democrats, most notably the leadership of the state’s largest cities, have complained Abbott reopened Texas too quickly and have pointed to the record numbers of confirmed new cases and hospitalizations.

Conservative lawmakers battered Abbott’s early moves to combat the virus, including business, school and child-care closures and a stay-at-home order that expired in May.

In April, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called attempts by local governments in the Houston area to enforce mask orders with fines the “ultimate government overreach.”

“The move to mandate facemasks comes far too little, far too late for Governor Abbott,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman said. “Texans are still getting sick. Families are still suffering … All of this could have been prevented if Governor Abbott had listened to experts and medical professionals in the first place.”

The Texas Medical Association applauded the mask order. The doctors’ group had urged the state Republican Party to cancel its in-person convention which starts July 16 in Houston. A statement from the group did not address the convention

“There is no question about it, face masks reduce the spread of COVID-19. They help protect the people wearing masks, and they help protect the people around them,” said the association’s president, Dr. Diana L. Fite.

___

This story has been corrected to remove references to it being a statewide mask order, and to show that the TMA had urged the state GOP to cancel its in-person convention not just require masks. The order applies to counties with at least 20 positive COVID-19 infections.

Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

Alberta premier Jason Kenney, right and Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, provide details about Bill 13, the Alberta Senate Election Act., in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday June 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Minister Doug Schweitzer talks on Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit

Provincial government rolling out new benefit this April to better help small businesses.

Mike Ammeter (Photo by Rebecca Hadfield)
Sylvan Lake man elected chair of Canadian Canola Growers Association

Mike Ammeter is a local farmer located near the Town of Sylvan Lake

City of Red Deer has nearly doubled its active COVID-19 case count since Feb. 10 and has 75.6 per cent of the Central zone’s active cases. (File photo)
Another new high: Red Deer hits 574 active COVID-19 cases

Province reports 13 new COVID-19 deaths, 430 new cases

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 11 additional deaths over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta
Red Deer active COVID-19 cases drop slightly

Province reports 267 additional COVID-19 cases, 11 new deaths

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

Sylvan Lake's Winter Village lured many visitors to the town this winter. The town has launched a new contest to attract a new business.
(Black Press file photo)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

Students and staff at Gateway Christian School wore pink Wednesday in support of Pink Shirt Day, a worldwide anti-bullying initiative that was started in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Public Schools)
Students, central Alberta community celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Mayor of Sylvan Lake Sean McIntyre supports anti-bullying cause

Minister Rick Wilson poses with Katie at the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin, both wearing her Pink Shirt Day design. Facebook/ Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin Boys and Girls club Pink Shirt day design focuses on kindness

Katie with the Boys and Girls Club of Wetaskiwin created this year’s Pink Shirt Day design.

Black Press File Photo
Valentine’s Day shooting in Maskwacis leaves one male in hospital, one male in custody

19-year-old Francis Edward Nepoose from Maskwacis has been charged with attempted murder.

Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker is expected to sentence Satnam Singh Sandhu on Friday. Red Deer Advocate file photo
Updated: Sylvan Lake man pleads guilty to manslaughter for strangling wife in 2019

Kulvinder Sandhu was strangled and died in hospital several days later

Sentencing delayed in the stabbing death of Samantha Sharpe, of Sunchild First Nation. (Red Deer Advocate file photo)
Central Alberta man not criminally responsible for killing his father in 2020: judge

Psychiatrist testified Nicholas Johnson was psychotic when he killed his father

Most Read