Responding to a growing surge in the number of new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the number of patients requiring hospitalization in the state, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday requiring almost all Texans to wear a covering over the mouth and nose in any commercial or public building. The requirement extends to people outdoors when it is impossible for them to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household. Those not complying with the order will receive a warning on the first offense and a $250 fine for the second and any subsequent offenses.
Exempted from the mask requirement are those younger than 10, those having a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, those eating or drinking, those engaging in exercising or engaging in physical activity, provided that they can maintain six feet of social distancing from others not in the same household, and others. Those living in counties that are certified to have 20 or fewer cases are also exempt. The governor's full executive order with a complete list of exemptions can be found at https://open.texas.gov.
The governor also prohibited outdoor gatherings of greater than 10 persons, except when approved by a local mayor or county judge. According to Dumas/Moore County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Carl Watson, Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades said that the Fourth of July mud volleyball, Lions Club food concessions, and fireworks display planned for Saturday could take place with modifications. Attendees will be asked to wear masks. Players in the mud pits would not have to wear a mask while playing, but they would have to put one on after finishing play. He said masks would be available at the Lions Club concession stands. Drive through service for the Lions Club food concessions is available.
"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. … 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," said the governor in a press release. The governor also released a video, available on You Tube, where he discusses this issue.
The governor's move comes after he faced increasing criticism for his stance of recommending the wearing of masks to deal with the COVID surge but not requiring it. Local health officials in Houston and several other cities in Texas have expressed concern that the number of new cases and hospitalizations could surpass state hospital capacity if current trends continue. The governor has prohibited elective surgeries and other procedures in several counties in recent days to try to maintain enough capacity to deal with the rise in the number of COVID patients. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported a record-breaking 8,076 new cases on July 1and 7,915 on July 2. As of July 2, there were 7,382 COVID patients in Texas hospitals up from 6,904 the day before. In addition, the rate for those testing positive for the virus exceeded 13 percent on June 1, almost the same level as in April. The governor has said that a positivity rate above 10 percent would be reason for concern and a reason for the government to act.