Fort Bend County residents will soon be required to wear nose and mouth coverings when in public, according to a statewide executive order issued Thursday by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Effective at 12:01 p.m. Friday, July 3, the order requires all Texans in counties where there are at least 20 COVID-19 cases to wear masks “when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain 6 feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.” There are some exceptions to the mask mandate, such as when eating, drinking, exercising, voting or when wearing a mask would exacerbate a medical condition or disability.
Abbott’s order says first-time violators can only receive verbal or written warnings, but subsequent violations by the same person are subject to fines not to exceed $250. Texans cannot be arrested or jailed solely for not wearing masks, according to the order.
“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 while continuing to keep Texas businesses open,” Abbott wrote Thursday on Twitter. “Texans should wear a face covering for the health of their families, friends, and for all fellow Texans.”
Abbott had previously ordered that no local governments in Texas could require their citizens to wear masks, but two weeks ago, he allowed local elected officials to require businesses to require their employees and visitors to wear masks. Fort Bend County Judge KP George issued such as an order June 23.
Abbott’s latest mandate comes at a time when cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 — the contagious disease caused by the new coronavirus — are spiking in the Houston area and across the state. According to the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which tracks medical trends in the Houston area, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Fort Bend County nearly quadrupled during the month of June. As of Thursday, there were 211 COVID-19 patients in Fort Bend hospitals and 55 in intensive care units.
Fort Bend County health officials have reported a total of 3,999 COVID-19 cases among residents, with the disease having caused at least 56 deaths and 1,365 patients having recovered.
In addition to his mask-wearing order, Abbott also announced Thursday that local officials have the authority to restrict gatherings of 10 or more people.
Among the exceptions to Abbott’s statewide mask-wearing order are as follows:
- Any person younger than 10 years of age
- Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering
- Any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink
- Any person while the person is exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household
- Any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver
- Any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal
- Any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water
- Any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged
- Any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged
- Any person while the person is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience