Today at noon, you are now bound by state law to cover your face in public places. Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order this afternoon mandating it in all Texas counties with at least 20 cases of COVID-19. The maximum fine is $250 after a verbal or written warning. This is what mayors and county judges have been calling for for weeks; before this, Abbott only allowed local governments to mandate that businesses require masks upon entry. He previously refused to order the general public to do so. His hand appears forced. The state added more than 8,000 cases yesterday, more than doubling the additions of two weeks ago. And July 4 is Saturday.
The order also gives local leaders permission to ban any outdoor gatherings of 10 or more people. Previously, anything up to 100 was allowed. On Thursday, Dallas County revealed a record high of 708 new cases of the coronavirus. On Friday, Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Phil Huang announced there will be at least 1,000 new cases.
In his announcement, County Judge Clay Jenkins added this: “increasing reports of cases are continuing to be associated with multiple large recreational and social gatherings since the beginning of June, including house parties.” We’re still seeing a lag in cases and hospitalizations from Memorial Day, Jenkins said.
“We cannot have another Memorial Day over this July 4 weekend,” Huang said. “If that happens, it will really be catastrophic.”
The July 4 holiday rightly has public health experts nervous about an uptick in cases and another rush on hospitals. UT Southwestern’s latest modeling shows the possibility of a 50 percent increase in hospitalizations in Dallas and Tarrant counties by July 13 “if the current growth rates persist.” That would mean more than 1,300 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds; there are currently 972 split between the two counties.
“Great caution must be exercised now and during any upcoming Independence Day celebrations so that our current increases do not turn into exponential case growth,” UT Southwestern’s modeling description reads. “Any bump from the July 4th holiday or a decrease in the compliance of the physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene, and crowd management policies could leave many Dallas County hospitals with capacity changes by mid-July.”
The order includes some carve-outs. Nobody younger than 10 has to wear a mask. You can take it off to eat or drink. If you’re exercising and staying away from others, you don’t need one. Driving? You’re good, too. If you’re swimming, no mask. The order also does not include people who are voting or assisting voters, but it’s “strongly encouraged.” A mask isn’t required in church but is also “strongly encouraged.”
Be smart and stay safe this July 4. Your neighbors are depending on it.