Home News Texas Governor Reverses Course and Orders Face Masks

Texas Governor Reverses Course and Orders Face Masks

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The governor is in a tough spot,” said Reb Wayne, a Republican political consultant in Austin. “He’s trying to balance the public health and general welfare of the state versus some of the voices within his own political constituency who are not happy.”

He said pressure against imposing the face mask mandate came from what he described as the “libertarian” wing of the Republican Party, which has seen mask-wearing requirements as an assault on personal freedoms. “They were already clamoring prior to this order today,” he said. “He clearly did not do this lightly.”

Lina Hidalgo, the top executive in Harris County, which includes Houston, said in a statement that she welcomed the governor’s move. Ms. Hidalgo had attempted in April to adopt a general requirement for mask-wearing in her county — not just in businesses — that would be enforceable with a fine. But the governor had pre-empted her, and other local officials, from taking such actions.

Ms. Hidalgo said Mr. Abbott’s new order would not be enough to stop the spread of the virus. “I continue to advocate for an enforceable stay-home order in Harris County,” she said in a statement. “I’m afraid that waiting will only lead to more lives lost.”

In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the new statewide requirement was overdue. “It’s about time,” said Mr. Nirenberg, who describes himself as a progressive independent.

“Unfortunately it has been heavily politicized by state and federal leaders in Texas and across the country,” he said. “I hope its effectiveness is not blunted by the severity of the surge that we’re seeing.”

The governor’s order also authorized mayors and county executives to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people, and required six feet of social distancing in any large gatherings.

“Large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in Covid-19 cases,” he said, adding that “restricting the size of group gatherings will strengthen Texas’ ability to corral this virus and keep Texans safe.”

The face mask order, which has certain exceptions for young children, people with medical conditions and people eating in restaurants or exercising outdoors, applies in all counties that have 20 or more cases of the coronavirus.

It is also the latest sign that Republicans are increasingly embracing masks, as the virus spreads in Republican-led states in the South and the West. Vice President Mike Pence pointedly wore a mask at a church visit in Dallas on Sunday, and this week President Trump, who has resisted wearing a mask in public, said: “I’m all for masks. I think masks are good​.​”

The mask order was immediately the talk of Texas. On the patio of a restaurant in downtown Lubbock, a conservative college town in West Texas, opinion was divided and the discussion was animated among a group of a half-dozen unmasked people who had just come from a funeral.

Tye Stewart, 37, said that although he was not wearing a mask at the moment, while he drank a beer, he had kept one on for the entire funeral in the 100-degree heat. “I was sweating, but it’s not that bad,” he said.

Janessa Black, 29, a restaurant worker, said she, too, generally wore a mask when outside her home. “I wear a mask to protect other people,” she said. “It’s only fair that they wear masks to protect me.”

David Montgomery reported from Austin and J. David Goodman reported from Lubbock, Texas. Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting.

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