The order, which takes effect at 12:01 p.m. Friday, immediately applies to all Texas counties, though counties with 20 or fever active cases can be exempted if they choose to opt-out. In addition, exemptions also exist for children who are younger than 10 years old, people with certain medical conditions, people who are eating or drinking, and people who are exercising outdoors.
The order represents a change of course for Abbott. The governor had previously prohibited local jurisdictions from issuing their own mask mandates. However, with Texas' caseload rising – and its hospital systems overflowing – Abbott may have had no choice but to issue the order.
Texas was one of the first states to relax its coronavirus restrictions, allowing some businesses to open on May 1. Infections started to increase almost immediately, however, with the state Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reporting a then-record breaking 1,888 hospitalizations on May 5.
Despite early signs that the reopenings were causing infections to increase, the state still continued to reopen. On June 3, Abbott allowed almost all businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity. A little over a week after, that was expanded to 70 percent.
Back then, Abbott and other state officials had attributed the increase in coronavirus infections in the state to a combination of expanded testing and a few isolated hotspots. For a while, this seemed to be the case; the state's positivity rate – the ratio of confirmed cases compared to total tests – had actually gone down to just around five percent in May from a high of 13.86 percent mid-April.
Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus, however, continued to rise. Despite seemingly plateauing at the end of May, the state's coronavirus hospitalizations soon broke records in early June. By month-end, hospital systems in the state had reached a breaking point. In Houston, hospitals, including Texas Medical Center – the world's largest medical complex – were running out of intensive care beds, requiring them to start converting remaining beds into ICU beds, or transfer patients to other hospitals.
Estimates now show that the need for ICU beds in Houston will reach unsustainable levels within a couple of weeks.
Texas is not the only state that's reversing previous its reopening in response to a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey shut down bars, movie theaters, gyms and water parks. Most of these businesses reopened after the governor's stay-at-home and business closure orders expired mid-May. In addition, Ducey also ordered public schools to delay the start of classes until at least August 17.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that he is postponing the restarting of indoor dining in the state. This is due to people not wearing masks and not complying with recommendations for social distancing.
In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly is following in Texas' footsteps. On July 2, Kelly released an executive order that requires people to wear masks in most public spaces starting immediately the next day. In addition to mandating masks in both indoor and outdoor spaces, the order also requires businesses to have their employees wear masks while working in any space visited by customers even if customers are not present at the time.
In Florida, on the other hand, Gov. Ron DeSantis has left the decision on whether to require masks up to local leaders. In response, both Miami-Dade and Broward counties have issued orders requiring the use of masks ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
These orders come as the U.S.'s daily count of new cases breached 50,000 for the first time on July 1, bringing the country just shy of 3 million cases. As of reporting time, the U.S. has over 2.7 million coronavirus cases.
With these numbers in mind, it seems that many leaders are now rethinking their approaches to the coronavirus and what they need to do to curb its spread.