On Thursday, July 2, in the face of growing COVID-19 infection and hospitalization numbers across the state, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order requiring the use of face coverings when in public and not socially-distanced (subject to a list of exceptions), and a proclamation banning most outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
Executive Order GA-29 requires every person in Texas to wear a mask or other face covering while present in a business or outdoor space open to the public if it is not feasible to maintain six feet of separation from other people except members of their own household.
GA-29, which becomes effective at 12:01 p.m. on July 3, 2020, does not apply:
- to persons under 10 years of age;
- to those with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
- while a person is eating, drinking, or seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
- to any person while exercising or engaging in physical activity outdoors, provided they are maintaining a safe distance from others who are not members of their household;
- to those driving alone or only with other household members;
- when removing a face covering temporarily is required for security reasons, such as while visiting a bank, or because specific access to the person’s face is needed, as when obtaining a personal-care service applied to the face;
- while in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water;
- while voting, assisting a voter, or serving as an elections worker or poll-watcher;
- while actively providing or participating in religious worship;
- while giving a speech for broadcast or to an audience; or
- to those in counties certified by the Texas Department of Emergency Management as having “minimal cases” of COVID-19 and which have opted out of GA-29.
Notably, GA-29 does not exempt those engaged in activities designated as “CISA” critical infrastructure activities by the federal government from its mask requirement. Also, following widespread public protests around Texas, GA-29 specifically provides that anyone participating in a “protest or demonstration involving more than 10 people and who is not practicing safe social distancing of six feet from other people not in the same household” is not exempt from the mask requirement.
In a significant shift in policy, GA-29 directs law enforcement to enforce the order, and provides for a fine of up to $250.00 for a person’s second violation of the mask requirement, provided the person received a verbal or written warning for a first violation. Although the Governor’s recent executive orders have prohibited local officials from imposing civil or criminal penalties for violations of local mask requirements, GA-29 retroactively amends the Governor’s most recent order on this topic to remove the relevant language. GA-29 does not, however, explicitly provide that it overrules recent local orders requiring businesses to adopt mandatory-mask policies for employees and visitors.
With the Fourth of July holiday weekend approaching, the Governor’s July 2 proclamation amended his prior executive order, GA-28, which banned most outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people. His July 2 proclamation provides that, effective, 12:01 p.m. on July 3, outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited unless they fall into an exception set out in GA-28 (see “Governor Abbott Bans Large Gatherings and Restricts Bars, Restaurants, and Floating the River to Slow Spread of COVID-19 Cases in Texas” for a summary of exceptions). The Governor’s July 2 proclamation also made mandatory a suggestion in GA-28 that people avoid gathering in large groups and maintain social distancing. As amended by the proclamation, GA-28 now mandates that people not gather in groups larger than 10, except those allowed by executive order or Department of State Health Services guidelines, and requires that they maintain six feet of social distancing from those not in their group.