‘I believe in individual responsibility': Governor Abbott disagrees with Wolff’s request to mandate facial coverings

Judge Wolff sent letter after Metro Health announced this week that San Antonio is in its second wave of COVID-19

(Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images) (Lynda M. Gonzalez, 2020 Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – Governor Gregg Abbott has responded to Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s request to make face masks mandatory for residents and said it’s not about government mandates. Rather, it’s about “individual responsibility” when it comes to fighting COVID-19 and containing the spread.

The governor’s statement to the letter can be read below:

“Judge Wolff and I have a philosophical difference. He believes in government mandates, and I believe in individual responsibility. With every interview that I’ve had on TV, I’ve talked about the individual responsibility to wear a face guard to make sure you don’t transmit COVID-19 or that you don’t get it. It’s up to every individual in this state to make sure that we slow the spread of COVID-19. I don’t believe the government should mandate that every person must wear a mask or otherwise face a fine or go to jail. It’s wrong to deprive someone of their liberty just because they’re not wearing a mask during this course of this challenge, and that’s why he and I disagree. But he and I do agree, and I also agree with the San Antonio mayor, about the value of wearing a mask, the value of sanitizing your hands, and the value of distancing yourself until we have medications to treat COVID-19. All of us have discussed these strategies when talking to the public. We must maintain these safe strategies so that we can contain the spread.”

Wolff asked the governor in the letter to issue a new executive order that would allow local jurisdictions to determine if mandatory face coverings are needed.

As of now, face coverings are optional for Bexar County residents after Abbott said fines can’t be issued to residents for not wearing a face covering. Still, city leaders continue to urge residents to wear them when out in public to help contain the spread of the virus.

“As a result, we see fewer and fewer people wearing face coverings and rates of infection are increasing,” Wolff said in the letter.

RELATED: All-time high COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations reported in San Antonio, Bexar County this week

As announced on Thursday in the city’s COVID-19 briefing, Bexar County is in a second wave of the coronavirus, given the surge of cases and hospitalizations over the past week.

Metro Health Director Dawn Emerick said the uptick in COVID-19 numbers is not gradual and may also be linked to Memorial Day weekend celebrations.

“We’re seeing a spike. This is not gradual,” said Dawn Emerick, San Antonio Metro Health Director, on Thursday.

Wolff said the result of fewer people wearing masks has resulted in the second wave of cases.

MORE: ‘We are entering a second wave’: Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations spiking in San Antonio

As of Friday, Bexar County recorded 172 new cases, preceded by 507 new cases Tuesday through Thursday.

The county currently has 138 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, which is the highest daily number we’ve had so far in the area, according to Wolff.

Officials said there are 28% of staffed hospital beds available and 78% of ventilators.

You can read Wolff’s letter below:


About the Authors:

David Ibañez has been managing editor of KSAT.com since the website's launch in October 2000.

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.