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Texas governor establishes statewide face covering requirement, issues proclamation to limit gatherings

Texans who refuse to comply with the order after a verbal warning can be subjected to a $250 fine.

AUSTIN, Texas —

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an Executive Order requiring 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 Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) will maintain a list of counties that are not subject to the face-covering requirement. The list can be found here.

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Exceptions to the mask requirement include:

  • Any person younger than 10 years of age;
  • Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
  • Any person consuming food or drink, or when seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
  • Any person exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors while also maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household;
  • Any person 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;
  • Any person in a county that meets the requisite criteria regarding minimal cases of COVID-19;
  • Any person whose county judge has affirmatively opted-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face-covering attestation form.

According to the order, people not exempt from the face-covering requirement are those attending a protest or demonstration involving more than 10 people and those not practicing safe social distancing of six feet from other people not in the same household.

Following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of Gov. Abbott's face-covering requirement, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.

The order goes into effect at 12:01 p.m. on Friday, July 3.

The governor also issued a proclamation giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of more than 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.  

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"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 Gov. Abbott. “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. Likewise, 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. We all have a responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep our communities safe. If Texans commit to wearing face coverings in public spaces and follow the best health and safety practices, we can both slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep Texas open for business. I urge all Texans to wear a face covering in public, not just for their own health, but for the health of their families, friends, and for all our fellow Texans.” 

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) applauded Gov. Abbott's order which they say will help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“The physicians of Texas are very pleased that Governor Abbott is following the science," TMA President Diana L. Fite, MD, said. "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."

The TMA says five actions have proven effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19 and strongly believes Texans should follow the following guidelines: 

  • Stay home when possible
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Avoid large crowds
  • Keep six feet apart
  • Wear face masks or face coverings when around non-family members

"We support all efforts throughout Texas to reach the highest levels of compliance with these safe practices," Dr. Fite said.

The TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 53,000 physicians and medical student members. 

President of the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) Todd Staples agreed with the order, as well.

"Gov. Abbott is striking the right balance in establishing policy that will keep our economy moving while slowing the spread of COVID-19," Staples said. "Hospitalization rates are increasing substantially, so it is absolutely imperative we heighten the measures to protect our citizens and promote growth of jobs simultaneously. As an industry that fuels our economy and protects our environment all while focusing on a culture of safety, we know firsthand that safety protocols are the foundation for productivity and success."

Founded in 1919, the TXOGA is the oldest and largest trade association in the state representing every facet of the Texas oil and natural gas industry.

Texas Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen released a statement also praising Gov. Abbott for his actions:

"Leaders lead while others criticize. Today Governor Abbott continues to lead. I applaud his face covering requirement and stand firmly with him as he makes these tough decisions, working day in and day out to keep Texas strong in both the health of its citizens and its economic prosperity. Our state, nation, and world face one of the greatest crises in recent history and there is no room for partisan politics nor are there any easy answers. He continues to demonstrate fortitude and flexibility as he monitors and responds to an extremely dynamic situation based on fact-based data and scientific evidence. I am grateful for his efforts to keep Texas unified and moving forward"

However, Rep. Matt Schaefer, who represents a portion of Smith County, disagreed with the governor's order.

"Gov. Abbott, put down your scepter," Rep. Schaefer wrote in a Facebook post. "Pick up a pen. Call a special session of the legislature. Stop trampling the Constitution. Want a mask mandate? See if the people who were elected to write laws will pass one. I say let Texans decide for themselves."

Gov. Abbott's move comes just days after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated the country was heading in the "wrong direction" regarding the rise in COVID-19 cases during a hearing before the U.S. Senate.

“It could get very bad,” Dr. Fauci said, warning that new cases “could go up to 100,000 a day” if people continue to defy advice on social distancing and face masks. He said states like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have each had to roll back reopening plans as cases in those states climb, noting that half of the new cases nationwide have been reported in those states. The sharp increase of new infections and hospitalizations rates, he said, have also jeopardized reopening plans throughout the country. 

In response, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Tuesday evening he doesn’t need the advice of Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.

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“Fauci said today he’s concerned about states like Texas that ‘skipped over’ certain things. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Patrick told Fox News host Laura Ingraham in an interview.  

However, Gov. Abbott says 91 Texas counties saw record COVID-19 case numbers this week.

The Tyler Police Department released the following statement to CBS19 when asked how aggressively they would enforce the governor's order:

"We at Tyler PD will maintain the same position as we did during quarantine. We will educate and make the public aware of the regulations. We are going to monitor the situation as it develops and continue to keep the public update via our social media and our website."

The Smith County Sheriff's Office said they won't issue citations for failure to comply with the governor's order.

"The Smith County Sheriff’s Office encourages all citizens to practice safe social distancing during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Sheriff Larry Smith. "Most of you have heard by now the governor’s order to wear a mask while in public. While we encourage the public to take all precautions, we will encourage voluntary compliance regarding wearing a mask and will not be issuing citations for failure to comply. Should a business refuse to serve someone for failure to comply they do have the right to request you to leave."

Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb issued the following statement concerning the order:

The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office will not take actions to enforce the Texas Governor’s Office Executive Order GA29, issued on July 2, regarding the mandatory use of face masks.

The executive order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement use of detention, arrest, or confinement to enforce the order. This language strips police of the fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance with the law.

This language would subject our agency to liability for even speaking to a person about this order, as that could be construed as a detention. Furthermore, holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine, would be, under current law, a legal detention.

The sheriff’s office must consider the intent of the Texas Constitution in regards to how laws of the land are passed and enforced in this state. Traditionally, law enforcement only enforces laws and statutes that are the product of the legislative process or the product of regulatory authorities authorized by the legislature. The further removed we become from this, the more liability and responsibility we incur as an agency.

The sheriff will not require deputies to wear face masks on duty for two reasons:

  •  The wearing of objects near the face and neck provide an offender possible tools to impose harm to an officer, and the office will not put the deputy in an unnecessary disadvantage during physical confrontation. For the same reason, deputies at this agency are not required to wear neckties on duty unless in ceremonial events.
  • In light of recent allegations in the nation of misconduct on the part of police, The Sheriff will not restrict the deputy’s ability to clearly communicate intentions when in contact with citizens.

The UCSO will not prohibit a deputy from wearing a face mask if they so choose.

The sheriff’s office does not make this statement as any disrespect to Gov. Abbott and we encourage all citizens to take reasonable precautions in their own life to mitigate possible exposure to the coronavirus.

According to the Texas Tribune, Texas is reporting 7,382 people are currently hospitalized for coronavirus, more than double the number from two weeks ago. 

For the latest information on the coronavirus, text "FACTS" to (903) 600-2600.

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