In a major turnaround, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order (Executive Order GA-28) to combat the community spread of COVID-19 across the state, requiring every Texas resident to wear masks or face coverings in public and in businesses.
It is important to note that the executive order applies to counties that currently have more than 20 coronavirus cases. It goes into effect this Friday, July 3, at noon.
There are several exceptions to the order, which include:
- Any person under the age of 10;
- Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
- Any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
- Any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household;
- Any person while the person is 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 poll 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; or
- Any person in a county (a) that meets the criteria promulgated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) regarding minimal cases of COVID-19, and (b) whose county judge has affirmatively opted out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face covering attestation form-provided, however, that wearing a face covering is highly recommended, and every county is strongly encouraged to follow these face covering standards.
As part of Gov. Abbott’s order, there will be punishments issued out to Texans if they violate the order, and are found not wearing a mask or face covering, which include the following:
- First-time violators will get a verbal or written warning
- People who commit a second offense could face a fine, not exceeding $250
- Each subsequent violation will be punishable by a fine of up to $250
There are some other very important components to the executive order.
First, local law enforcement and other local officials have been given authority to enforce the executive order, but they are not allowed to detain, arrest, or confine anyone to jail who is found to be in violation of the order. Also, anyone who attends a protest or demonstration that involves more than ten (10) people, must adhere to the executive order details, and must practice safe social distancing of six feet from other people not in the same household.
The severe recent spread of COVID-19 has been amplified since Gov. Abbott made the decision to reopen the state in phases on May 1. Since that time, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed. On June 25, Abbott hit the pause button, discontinuing his phased reopening plan as a result of the spike and increased number of cases.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester Turner have been huge proponents of having a mandatory mask order in place with punishable fines. Hidalgo actually introduced a mandatory mask order for Harris County on April 27. After Hidalgo announced the mandatory mask order, which included fines, she was publicly rebuked by Abbott, stating at a press conference that while he strongly recommended that everyone wear a mask, his position was that “no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”
Hidalgo complied with the governor’s executive order, but his decision was clearly the wrong decision. Fast forward to today, and while it is clear that while Abbott has decided to change his tune and now seemingly understands the impact that COVID-19 is having on Texans and the rest of the country, it is the Texans residents, businesses and health care professionals who are ultimately paying the price for his premature and harmful decision.
Please be sure to adhere to the new mask and face covering executive order to avoid penalties.