AUSTIN—As government shutdowns and lockdowns continue across Texas, one county has now mandated that everyone wear masks out in public—and those who do not could face criminal consequences.
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt and Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced Monday their new countywide stay-at-home order, which is an updated version of their previous order that began on March 24.
The new order extends to May 8 and still restricts travel to “essential only,” bans any gatherings of any number outside a single household, and prohibits “non-essential” businesses from operating. But now the stay-at-home order also requires everyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask when going out in public for “essential work or activities.”
“The order now says that if you go outside, you need to put on a face covering,” said Mayor Adler.
According to the order, the fabric mask does not have to be medical-grade but must cover your mouth and nose and be worn in stores, outside, in places where 6 feet of distancing is not possible, and even while doing quick tasks such as pumping gas.
There are exceptions, such as being outside alone or traveling alone in a car; eating, drinking, or exercising outdoors (as long as you’re not around other people); or if you’re only around the people who are part of your household.
Because of their new order, Eckhardt and Adler have also now deemed fabric stores as “essential” businesses.
The officials also talked about penalties for those who do not wear masks. The order includes a fine of up to $1,000 and even jail time.
“There certainly will be enforcement if we do not see a community-wide embrace of social distancing and appropriate masking,” said Eckhardt. “If we see really egregious violations that are threatening community health, we will certainly enforce.”
The officials said they hope the community will “self-police,” but Adler also recognized that “these kinds of orders carry with them criminal penalties and the force of law.” He also encouraged citizens to report on each other.
“If you see violations in the community, construction sites, restaurants, it’d be good to call 311 and let the city and the county know that that’s happening,” he said. “The order is very new, and my hope is we get greater and greater compliance. But as the judge said, if we don’t get widespread compliance with the order, including the provision on face covering, then the city is going to have to step up enforcement measures.”
“In COVID-19, there are very real consequences to a failure to adapt,” Eckhardt added. “There are real health consequences … economic consequences to our inability to restart the engine of commerce if we are unable to make these behavioral adaptions, and then third, there are also civil and criminal consequences to a failure to adapt to these new behaviors that are being required by the order.”