Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has taken flak for not aggressively moving to contain the coronavirus's rampage through his state, changed course Thursday and made it mandatory to wear masks in public in any county with 20 or more cases.
"Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19," Abbott said in a statement announcing his executive order. "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."
"We can both slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep Texas open for business," he said.
Texas health officials reported 8,231 new COVID-19 cases, which is the second-highest daily total recorded in the state, and 45 deaths, according to an NBC News tally.
Since the pandemic started, 175,039 Texans have been infected and 2,524 have died from the virus, the statistics show. And 70,877 of those cases were reported in the last two weeks.
Abbott, a Republican ally of President Donald Trump, had been loath to impose statewide mandates and had left it to local authorities to decide how they wanted to deal with the crisis.
But as the number of cases started climbing last month and hospital officials warned that they might not have enough beds for sick patients, Abbott hit the pause button on plans to reopen, shutting down bars and other businesses that draw crowds.
"As I said from the start, if the positivity rate rose above 10% the State of Texas would take further action to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Abbott said in a statement. "At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars."