‘People are not comprehending the magnitude of the problem,’ says Texas Gov. Abbott on coronavirus

Abbott says face mask mandate brought on by rapidly rising cases

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke with KSAT12 News for the first time since issuing a statewide order mandating face masks in counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases.

SAN ANTONIO – Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke with KSAT Friday about the state’s mandatory mask order, which went into effect at noon, and what state leaders are doing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Abbott said his reasoning behind the decision to mandate masks is based on the rapidly growing number of people who are testing positive for COVID-19, as well as climbing hospitalizations and deaths, and advice from doctors.

“We had hardly any hospitalizations on Memorial Day. It was only in the past couple of weeks that we saw this incredible spike in the number of people testing positive,” Abbott said. “Today we have well over 7,500 people testing positive.”

Abbott has stated that if the COVID-19 positivity rate exceeded 10% it would be considered a warning sign for Texas and “on May 26 the positivity rate was 4.27%. Today it hovers around 14%,” Abbott said. “Hospitalizations are at very concerning levels.”

Abbott encouraging people to wear face masks as a way to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

“It seems like people are not comprehending the magnitude of the problem, and a lot of people said, ‘Well, there’s simply not enough people dying',” Abbott said. “... Anyone who thinks COVID-19 is not dangerous - the numbers are glaring warning signs that this is dangerous.”

Abbott said the state is averaging about 50 COVID-related deaths per day in the last few days, calling that a “very dangerous zone.”

What does Texas’ face mask mandate mean and who is exempt?

Abbott said he implemented the face mask order because he wants to keep the Texas economy growing. “We cannot deny people paychecks they desperately need.”

Abbott said if everyone adheres to the mandatory face mask requirement for a two to three week period, “we will start seeing results that should be on the positive side.”

When asked if Abbott might shut down the state again he gave an example of reclosing Texas bars. “We learned from local public health authorities that there were people testing positive who had been going to bars, which is why we had to take that action [to close] on bars.”

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The governor used another example, relevant to the San Antonio-area, about closing tubing outfitters because “there were multiple reports from public health authorities” that “tubing expeditions,” or perhaps people getting on buses to go tubing, could be spreading COVID-19.

KSAT asked Abbott if he is on the same page as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who said the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Abbott responded by saying he gets the opportunity to speak with state leaders every day and leaders in Washington D.C. multiple times per week, but he did not directly address Patrick or his comments.

“We’re all on the same page in that we want to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we want to reduce the hospitalizations and the deaths that are arising from it,” Abbott said. He told KSAT he has weekly phone calls with Dr. Deborah Birx, the lead doctor for the White House, and said Birx praised Texas for “having a great plan for reopening our economy” and called it a “smart plan.”

“She is working collaboratively with us to make sure that Texas is going to be able to have a both, safe opening plan, but also, a good plan containing the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said.

Anyone in Texas who is not wearing a face mask in a county with 20 or more COVID-19 cases could face a fine of $250.

About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.