In a reversal from statements made just a couple of weeks ago calling mask mandates an “infringement of individual liberty,” Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order on Thursday, putting in place a statewide face mask mandate.
“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,” said Abbott. “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.”
Failure to comply with the mandate could result in a $250 fine. Counties with less than 20 confirmed cases of the virus are exempted.
In April, Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting local governments from fining or jailing those who did not comply with local mask mandates. In a press conference announcing that order, Abbott said that “no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”
“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask,” said Abbott in late April. “However, it’s not a mandate. And we make clear that no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”
“My executive order, it supersedes local orders, with regard to any type of fine or penalty for anyone not wearing a mask,” he added.
And two weeks ago, Abbott told KWTX News in Waco that such ordinances would infringe on individual liberty.
In that same interview, however, Abbott said that local governments could require stores and businesses to require masks—a statement that paved the way for San Antonio, Houston, and many other cities in Texas to enforce Abbott’s mask order and compel citizens to wear masks.
Immediately after issuing the order today, Abbott was praised by outgoing Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who said he applauded the decision.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has previously called a mask mandate from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo “the ultimate government overreach.”
“These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger—and rightfully so,” Patrick said at the time.
Last week, Abbott began the process of rewinding his phased reopening plan, ratcheting back capacity in restaurants, prohibiting tubing and rafting businesses from operating, and shutting down bars again.
Today’s executive order is Abbott’s 22nd since declaring a state of emergency over the coronavirus in March.