AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Greg Abbott issued a nearly statewide mask mandate Thursday as Texas scrambles to get its coronavirus surge under control.
Abbott, who had pushed Texas’ aggressive reopening of the state economy in May, had previously said the government could not order individuals to wear masks. His prior virus-related orders had also undercut efforts by local governments to enforce mask requirements.
What caused Abbott to change course?
"Now that I have seen the level of spread across the state... we keep hitting record high after record high... that meant it was time to take action," Abbott told ABC-7 in an interview late Thursday afternoon.
The governor acknowledged Texas is now faced with dramatically rising numbers of both newly confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus and the number of patients so sick they needed to be hospitalized.
“We are now at a point where the virus is spreading so fast, there is little margin for error,” Abbott said.
Texas reported 7,915 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, a slight dip after zooming past the 8,000 mark for the first time the day prior. The 7,382 hospitalizations means the state has more than quadrupled its numbers in that category since the end of May.
According to the governor, the face mask order applies to all counties in the state with more than 20 confirmed Covid-19 cases. (You can read the order in its entirety at the bottom of this article.)
The order requires Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth while inside a business or other building open to the public, as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing is not possible.
The order also provides several exceptions, including people who are younger than 10 years old, people who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask, people who are eating or drinking and people who are exercising outdoors.
Abbott's order is effective as of 12:01 p.m. Friday. It directs law enforcement throughout the state to ensure compliance.
According to the order, first-time violators will be issued a warning. If violated a second time, a $250 fine will be issued.
Abbott had previously resisted calls for such a statewide requirement but recently allowed local governments to require businesses to mandate masks.
Abbott on Thursday also banned certain outdoor gatherings of over 10 people unless local officials approve. He had previously set the threshold at over 100 people. The new prohibition also goes into effect Friday afternoon.
The mandate comes one day after Texas hit another grim Covid-19 milestone with 8,076 new cases, making it the highest one-day total in the state since the start of the pandemic.
Abbott's latest moves also come ahead of Fourth of July weekend, which has raised concerns about larger-than-usual crowds gathering while the state grapples with the virus spike.
This is Abbott's latest set of moves aimed at trying to get the virus surge under control in Texas. Six days ago, he ordered bars closed and reduced the permitted restaurant occupancy to 50%, among other things.