Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appeared to signal support on Wednesday for Austin city officials’ push to move forward with additional enforcement measures that would ensure adherence to Abbott’s mandate on mask-wearing in public spaces.
In a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler (D), reported by the Texas Tribune, Abbott called the city’s consideration of new enforcement policy “an important step” toward curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the state, which has experienced a massive spike in new COVID cases in recent weeks. Texas has seen roughly 10,000 new cases two days in a row this week.
He added that recent orders on mask-wearing, which he had avoided requiring in public even as coronavirus cases mounted in his state, were based on the recommendations of health experts.
“If these orders are followed,” he wrote, “we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens.”
The Tribune reported that the Austin city council is expected to meet on Thursday to vote on a resolution that would enact a fine of up to $2,000 against anyone who violates the mask mandate. The resolution would also enable action to be taken “against any person who maintains a business or site that does not comply with minimum health standards.”
Abbott’s letter did not directly mention Austin’s Thursday city council meeting. But in a televised interview on a local NBC-affiliated station on Wednesday, he said that local leaders needed to “step up and enforce these executive orders.”
Abbott had come under fire in recent weeks for not requiring masks in public as a potential way to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He finally caved, issuing the orders last Thursday as cases in the state soared. The orders require Texans in counties with more than 20 active coronavirus cases to wear face coverings in businesses and in public with some exceptions. Abbott’s executive orders mandate a warning for first time violators, and a fine of up to $250 for repeated offenders.
“The last thing that we can and should do is to close down,” Abbott said. “It’s my understanding the mayor (of Austin) has made clear that he understands that any attempt to close businesses back down into a lockdown or a stay-at-home standard would be in contradiction of my executive order.”
In a clear reversal from just weeks ago, Abbott added, “the thing about people wearing face masks, and the reason why I issued the face mask requirement, is that if everyone does wear a face mask, everyone can go into work wherever they may work.”