In a major reversal, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a statewide rule Thursday requiring masks to be worn in public, but only after the dramatic COVID-19 spike in the state.
Abbott has long resisted taking the kinds of strong public health measures that other COVID-ravaged states have implemented to combat the virus. While he hasn’t been as extreme as some other Republican governors in dismissing the threat of COVID-19 and resisting mitigation strategies, Abbott has until the last few days toed the GOP line that reopening the economy is the top priority.
Then the case counts in Texas began to skyrocket, especially since the Memorial Day reopening.
The move came just two weeks after mayors of large cities hit by surging case counts begged Abbott for the authority to require mask-wearing.
“If you do not have plans to mandate face coverings statewide, we ask that you restore the ability for local authorities to enforce the wearing of face coverings in public venues where physical distancing cannot be practiced,” the mayors of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Arlington, Plano and Grand Prairie asked in the June 16 letter.
At the time, a previous executive order from the governor prohibited localities from using penalties or fines to enforce mask rules.
Ultimately, a day after the mayors’ letter, Abbott gave his blessing for localities to fine businesses that don’t require masks — rather than individuals. Abbott celebrated the odd workaround, saying “there has been a plan in place all along that all that was needed was for local officials to actually read the plan that was issued by the state of Texas.”
Abbott on Thursday also issued an executive order giving local authorities the power to prohibit gatherings above 10 people.