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Abbott Issues Order Requiring Face Coverings

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

TEXAS – It was bound to happen. The number of new cases of COVID-19 in the state of Texas over the last five days (32,611) exceeded the cumulative number of cases (28,087 through April 30) reported during the months of March and April when the Lone Star State was under stay-at-home guidelines.

As a result, on Thursday afternoon, July 2, Gov. Greg Abbott 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.

The latest count in Houston County showed 23 active cases of COVID-19 while Anderson County had 47.

The proclamation also gave mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 10 people. Abbott also made it mandatory, with a few exceptions, where people cannot gather together in groups larger than 10.

“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. 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,” he cautioned.

The executive order states, “Every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.”

There are exceptions to the face-covering requirement and it does not apply to the following:

  • Any person younger than 10 years of age.
  • 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.
  • Any person in a county (a) that meets the requisite 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.

It should be noted, however, the executive order has very little enforcement power to it.

The order states, “Following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of this 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. Local law enforcement and other local officials, as appropriate, can and should enforce this executive order, Executive Order GA-28, and other effective executive orders, as well as local restrictions that are consistent with this executive order and other effective executive orders.”

It also appears to give local jurisdictions the option of NOT enforcing the order. Notice the word “should” as opposed to the word “shall.”

Furthermore, the order also states, “This executive order hereby prohibits confinement in jail as a penalty for the violation of any face-covering order by any jurisdiction.”

“Large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases,” Abbott indicated. “Restricting the size of 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 order took effect at 12:01 pm on July 3.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.

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