Abbott Orders Masks Statewide Despite Patrick
Bashing of Hispanic Dem Female for Same Move
"Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach."
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, April 22, 2020
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Governor Greg Abbott followed the lead of local Democratic officials on Thursday when he imposed a statewide mask order less than three months after Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and other high-ranking Texas Republicans decried such a mandate as tyranny.
The face-covering requirement that Texas has desperately needed for weeks will apply initially to 187 counties where at least 20 COVID-19 cases have been reported in a state where the coronavirus has been raging out of control with almost 16,000 new cases in the past two days.
But the new Abbott directive on masks as a weapon against the coronavirus spread only has token teeth without the lingering threat of jail time for repeat offenders.
The Republican governor made violations of the mask edict punishable by a fine of $250 for second and subsequent offenses after a verbal or written warning for the first infraction. Abbott encouraged local authorities to enforce the mask decree that he outlined in an executive order that prohibits the jailing of anyone for refusing the abide by the emergency law.
Abbott's first imposition of mask mandate represents a sharp break from President Donald Trump and hardline conservatives who've complained that face-covering rules are an affront to freedom and liberty. The governor had appeared to be tailoring the Texas reopening for his critics on the hard right for the past two months before starting to clamp down again in mid-June after two weeks of dramatic virus spikes in almost all of the major cities across the state.
Abbott also tightened restrictions on outside gatherings that are limited again to 10 people. But the new state mask rule will apparently apply to the people attending the Texas GOP Convention that's scheduled for two weeks from now in downtown Houston if the in-person plan isn't scraped for a virtual alternative. The Texas Medical Association has urged the party to cancel the in-person gathering plans with hospitals in the Houston area perilously low on space amid a tidal wave of COVID-19 patients.
The emergency face-shrouding order requires social distancing when possible in public as well as a list of exemptions for people who are eating at restaurants, exercising outdoors, driving alone or with household members or attending worship services at their church.
"Every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household," the new order says.
Patrick - the state Senate president who's a tea party champion and Trump's campaign chairman here - suggested in a Fox News appearance this week that he and the governor had been teaming up in the pandemic management in Texas. But Abbott appeared to be relegating the state Senate president to absolute irrelevance with the mask decree.
Patrick had attacked Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in April for the issuance of a local mask requirement as a massive intrusion of government in the lives of Texans.
“On the same day Harris County Commissioner’s Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn’t needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public," Patrick declared at the time.
"Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach," Patrick added. "These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger – and rightfully so.”
While Hidalgo is a 29-year-old Hispanic Democrat, it remains to be seen whether Patrick will chastise the governor who's a white male Republican for taking the same actions belatedly.
Patrick had said nothing at the time he blasted Hidalgo about a mask order that Republican Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades of Dumas hadimposed the day before when the Panhandle location north of the Amarillo area had been the initial hot spot in Texas.
Patrick criticized Hidalgo again last week when she issued an order that declared the second surge to be a top-level emergency with Houston as the nation's largest hot spot in round two.
"During these serious times, we need calm leaders not panic alerts that scare people," Patrick said on Twitter.
The Abbott mask order apparently won't interfere with local orders in major Texas cities that force businesses to require the wearing of masks on their premises - a restriction that the governor approved in June when the second coronavirus surge had been under way for almost three weeks.
Sixty-seven Texas counties would currently be exempt from the mask mandate while county judges could attempt to opt out in other places.
Texas Major Hot Spots
Ranked by New Cases in Past Two Weeks
COVID-19 Cases Per 100,000 Population