SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued a statewide order that requires Texans to wear face coverings in public spaces due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The face coverings must be worn over the mouth and nose in all counties that have 20 or more cases, with a few exceptions, starting at 12:01 p.m. Friday, July 3, he said in a news release. The majority of Texas’ 254 counties meet that threshold.
Abbott has also given mayors and county judges the authority to impose bans on outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people, with exceptions. Local leaders across the state, including in San Antonio and Bexar County, have implored Abbott for weeks to give them more authority to battle the spread of the virus.
Before Thursday’s announcement of the mask mandate, Abbott encouraged the use of face coverings but stopped short of issuing an order that required them. Abbott had also prevented local governments from enforcing penalties on residents who did not wear them, a move that was derided by government leaders in metropolitan areas around the state.
Under Abbott’s orders, first-time violators will be given a verbal or written warning, but a second violation may result in a fine of up to $250.
The masks must be worn inside commercial buildings or in spaces open to the public when social distancing is not possible.
Exceptions include children younger than 10, or people with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing a face covering. The rest of the exceptions can be seen below:
“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,” Abbott said in a news release Thursday. “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. Likewise, large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg had previously issued mask requirements for businesses and customers at businesses, effectively a workaround of Abbott’s restrictions on penalties for individuals.
Abbott has clamped down on his reopening of the Texas economy due to the recent, alarming rise in infections. Last week, he announced that bars can no longer operate until further notice, restaurants must scale back capacity and gatherings could not surpass 100 people.
Officials have cautioned that the number of infections could spike following the Fourth of July holiday weekend and pose an even greater threat to hospitals.
As a result, popular beaches in South Texas, as well as several parks in populated areas around the state, have either closed or banned vehicles.
Texas has reported more than 175,000 total COVID-19 cases and more than 2,500 fatalities due to the virus, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
San Antonio’s COVID-19 tally stands at 12,878 total cases as of Thursday afternoon.
Nirenberg and Wolff reported 374 new cases, four deaths, and 1,074 hospitalizations on Thursday — just minutes after Abbott announced the mask order.
In response to the mask order, Nirenberg said “it’s about time.”
Wolff added that the order will “take a lot of pressures off of the businesses” that had been tasked with enforcing the local guidelines.
Read Gov. Greg Abbott’s order relating to face coverings below:
WATCH: Gov. Greg Abbott discusses new face mask order