Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday issued an order requiring people to wear masks in public in any county with 20 or more confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The order comes as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge statewide and public health officials worry about how Independence Day gatherings could fuel the pandemic even further. In Dallas County, health officials reported 708 new cases of the novel coronavirus Thursday, a new single-day record for the county.
"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. "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."
Anyone caught violating the order may be issued a warning for the first offense. Subsequent offenses could result in a fine of up to $250. Abbott emphasized that no one could be arrested for failing to wear a mask in public.
The order also gives mayors and county judges the ability to ban outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
The order comes a day after Texas Democrats held a press conference calling on Abbott to issue a statewide mask order — a fact that Democrats pointed out in a news release following Abbott's order. In a statement, Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, said Abbott's hesitation to issue mask requirements shows that the governor is leading from behind.
“Texans are still getting sick. Families are still suffering. Texans still don’t know how they are going to put food on the table," Rahman said. "All of this could have been prevented if Governor Abbott had listened to experts and medical professionals in the first place."
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