AUSTIN (BLOOMBERG) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered residents to wear face coverings in public amid a spike in Covid-19 cases across the second-most populous US state.
In a reversal of his months-long opposition to such a mandate, Abbott on Thursday (July 2) said the order applies to all counties with 20 or more virus cases.
He also barred people from gathering outdoors in groups larger than 10.
Texas reported its second-worst day of the pandemic with almost 8,000 new cases and a surge in hospital admissions.
The Republican governor has been under growing pressure from Democratic mayors and county leaders to crack down or at least grant them authority to mandate masks and other restrictions.
As he moved to aggressively reopen the state's economy in recent weeks, Abbott overruled local efforts to enforce stay-home orders and similar restrictions.
"The move to mandate face masks comes far too little, far too late for Governor Abbott," Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, said in an email.
"It took Texas Democrats demanding that he issue this common-sense policy and record breaking cases and hospitalisations to get Governor Abbott to finally act. This is unacceptable. Governor Abbott continues to lead from behind rather than implementing preventive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus."
"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," Abbott said in a statement.
Abbott has been scaling back his reopening as virus cases exploded and the sickest patients began to overwhelm intensive-care wards in Houston and elsewhere.
It is unclear how the order will impact the state Republican Party's planned July 16-18 convention in Houston.
Scofflaws may face fines of US$250 (S$350), under the governor's order.
"We have a limited window in which to regain control," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a media briefing moments before Abbott issued his order. A mask order would help "defuel this virus."
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who oversees the third-largest US county, was one of the most outspoken local officials demanding Abbott act as the outbreak escalated.
"I welcome the ability to make face coverings enforceable in Harris County," Hidalgo said in an email.
"The virus is not responding to incrementalism, and we are quickly running out of time. I continue to advocate for an enforceable stay home order in Harris County, so that we can bring the curve down and give ourselves a shot at reopening successfully."