As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are spreading in San Antonio and across the state at an “unacceptable rate,” Gov. Greg Abbott encouraged Texans to wear face coverings, but stopped short of mandating them or removing his ban on cities to require it for the general public.
Abbott said during a news conference on Monday that closing down Texas “will always be the last option” and that wearing a mask is one of the “most effective” ways to slow the spread. Abbott called the press conference as the state saw a positivity rate of 9% and has averaged more than 3,200 active hospitalizations in the last week.
“I know some people feel that wearing a mask is inconvenient or is an infringement of freedom, but I also know wearing a mask will help us keep Texas open,” Abbott said. “... We can protect Texans’ lives while also restoring their livelihoods. Together, we will keep Texas wide open for business.”
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Still, Abbott has not enacted any statewide mandates on face coverings, saying he wants smaller counties with few or no COVID-19 cases to have flexibility on local policies. Abbott’s statewide order does not allow counties to mandate face coverings for the public.
However, they can mandate face masks in places of business. Bexar County’s order mandating that businesses require face coverings where social distancing is not possible went into effect Monday.
Abbott included a warning, however, about what might happen if the spread is not contained in the next few weeks.
“Surely the public can understand if those spikes continue, additional measures are going to be necessary to maintain the health and wellbeing of Texans,” Abbott said. “If we were to experience another doubling over the next month, that would mean we are in an urgent situation where tougher actions will be required.”
San Antonio has set daily records for new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations multiple times in the last week and the current 7-day average of new cases dwarfs every week from the first four months of the pandemic.
This weekend San Antonio was named a U.S. hotspot for coronavirus, among the 5 cities seeing the fastest growth in new cases last week, along with Interstate 35 neighbor Austin.
While COVID-19 hospitalizations in both cities are surging, Abbott maintained that hospitals currently have an “abundant capacity,” and that the state is ready to help if hospitals need a surge of beds.
Critics say Abbott has not done enough to curb the spread of COVID-19 and allowing this surge to happen.
“In every single way, Governor Abbott has failed. As other states continue to see their cases dwindle, Texas is skyrocketing because of Governor Abbott’s weak leadership and botched reopening of the state,” Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement. “By his own metrics, Governor Abbott should not have pressed forth with the reopening of Texas. He refused to follow the metrics listed out by the CDC, White House, or his own guidelines and Texans are dying as a result.”