COVID-19: Mask Yourself. It’s the Law. (For Real.)

Masking and distancing now mandatory for all Austin businesses through Aug. 15

People shopping on June 21, days before new face mask orders went into effect (Photo by Jana Birchum)

As COVID-19 roars back with a vengeance all over Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott reversed course on June 17 and gave local authorities his blessing to require face coverings in public. Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe did so within 48 hours; the mayor then took it up a notch or two this week, making clear mask-wearing and social distancing is required, right now, all over Austin, with enforcement ready to go as needed.

Because he is a coward who, politically speaking, is afraid to get within six feet of COVID-19, Abbott pretends this was his position all along, and silly big city Democrats just didn't do the reading. Even his own party doesn't believe this, but a crisis is clearly upon the state and Abbott knows the "unacceptable rate" of COVID infections is his fault, so whatever. To make this gaslighting plausible, Abbott said his orders allow Texas cities and counties to require businesses serving the public to require their patrons and employees to wear masks and stay distanced.

That was good enough for Adler and Biscoe last week, as they issued orders requiring such businesses to implement COVID plans that include masking and are posted to be visible to employees and visitors. Adler's June 22 order goes farther, making masking and distancing mandatory for all businesses (not just those serving the public) and also for individuals when outside the home, unless alone or with household members. Both orders are set to expire Aug. 15. Mask orders are also in effect in Hays County but not yet in Williamson.

Adler's latest order attempts to relieve the uncomfortable pressure that Abbott's game-playing left upon business proprietors, spelling out when to call 3-1-1 to summon Austin Code or 9-1-1 to get the police. (A fine of up to $1,000 for the misdemeanor criminal charge, but not jail time, is still allowed by Abbott's orders.) With some of Texas' finest nutbags threatening gunplay if forced to wear a mask, some businesses may opt to take the hit and pay the fines, and some – such as the bar owners who got shut down by TABC over the weekend (enforcing Abbott's orders, not Adler's) – still naively think the public is on their side.

As of Tuesday, June 23, COVID-19 metrics in Travis County continued their climb into dangerous, record-setting territory; on Wednesday, as we go to press, Adler and health care leaders are holding a news conference on the new reality. We'll have more on that next week.

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COVID-19, social distancing, pandemic, Steve Adler, Sam Biscoe, Greg Abbott

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