In a sweeping reversal of prior policy, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released an executive order today mandating masks for Texas residents. The order will take effect at noon Friday and applies to counties with 20 or more confirmed active cases of COVID-19.
"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."
Violators will incur fines of up to $250.
Texas was among the first states to begin reopening the economy in a campaign many criticized as too aggressive. Last week, Abbott decreased legal restaurant capacity from 75 percent down to 50 percent and halted elective surgeries once more.
Texas has an estimated 82,732 active cases after hitting a record of 8,076 daily new cases on July 1.
Abbott hopes that wearing masks may allow economic activity to increase while minimizing the spread of the virus: "Given the current status of COVD-19 in Texas, requiring the use of face coverings is a targeted response that can combat the threat to public health using the least restrictive means, and if people follow this requirement, more extreme measures may be avoided."
Concurrent with the order is a proclamation restricting gatherings of greater than ten people, including "protests" and "demonstrations," while giving local judges the prerogative to approve exceptions or shut down gatherings deemed unsafe.
The Washington Examiner reported that concerns about Texas hospital capacity were unfounded, as Texas hospitals regularly run at upwards of 90 percent capacity and purposefully maintain fluidity. Mark Wallace, the president and CEO of Texas Children's Hospital, told the Examiner, "There is not a scenario, in my opinion, to where the demand for our beds, especially ICUs, ventilators, PPE, etc., would eclipse our capability."
"We need to refocus on slowing the spread, but this time we want to do it without closing down Texas again," Abbott said.