TEXAS, USA —
On Thursday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.
The open-ended order, which went into effect at 12:01 p.m. on Friday, states following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.
Even though the order has been applauded and encouraged by the Texas Medical Association, which is the largest state medical society in the nation, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, some East Texas law enforcement officials and county leaders say they won't enforce it.
SMITH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
The Smith County Sheriff's Office says they they won't issue citations for failure to comply with the governor's order.
"The Smith County Sheriff’s Office encourages all citizens to practice safe social distancing during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Sheriff Larry Smith. "Most of you have heard by now the governor’s order to wear a mask while in public. While we encourage the public to take all precautions, we will encourage voluntary compliance regarding wearing a mask and will not be issuing citations for failure to comply. Should a business refuse to serve someone for failure to comply they do have the right to request you to leave."
According to CBS19's newspaper partner, the Tyler Morning Telegraph, there have been 454 new COVID-19 cases in Smith County. since June 1. This means the month of June accounted for 69.4% of the county's total cases.
TYLER POLICE DEPARTMENT
Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer Det. Andy Erbaugh says the TPD will "maintain the same position as we did during quarantine."
"We will educate and make the public aware of the regulations," Det. Erbaugh said in a statement to CBS19. "We are going to monitor the situation as it develops and continue to keep the public update via our social media and our website."
The City of Tyler says the Tyler PD will be enforcing the governor's order.
GREGG COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
The Gregg County Sheriff's Office released the following statement via Facebook to address questions on the enforcement of the governor's executive order for masks:
"First, please understand if a business refuses you service for not wearing a mask they have the right to do so. Second, if the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office is placed in a position where enforcement is necessary we will start with education and requesting voluntary compliance. If Gregg County Sheriff's Office deputies encounter an individual that refuses to voluntarily comply, verbal warnings and or written warnings will follow. As a very last resort, a citation can be written at the discretion of the deputy. Please continue to send your thoughts and prayers for everyone affected by COVID-19 across our great nation."
GLADEWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT
The Gladewater Police Department says citations will be issued as a last resort.
"If a business refuses you service for not wearing a mask, they have the right to do so," the GPD said in a Facebook statement. "If enforcement becomes necessary we will prefer to educate and request voluntary compliance. If there is an individual that refuses to voluntarily comply, verbal warnings and or written warnings will follow. As a very last resort, a citation can be written at the discretion of our officers. We are all in this together and we can safely get through it if we work together."
Harrison County officials released the following statement regarding the executive order:
"I've had a number of questions about the governor's order from yesterday. Face covering in public places is mandatory. The County Judge, or Mayor inside the city limits, may impose restrictions on groups of more than 10. I believe Harrison County residents are thoughtful enough to protect themselves and others. Please be wise in your activities. Face coverings have been shown to greatly reduce the spread of germs & viruses. Enjoy your family and friends but remember to wear a face covering. Let's be smart and considerate to keep everyone safe."
UPSHUR COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Upshur County Sheriff Larry Webb issued the following statement concerning the order:
The Upshur County Sheriff’s Office will not take actions to enforce the Texas Governor’s Office Executive Order GA29, issued on July 2, regarding the mandatory use of face masks.
The executive order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement use of detention, arrest, or confinement to enforce the order. This language strips police of the fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance with the law.
This language would subject our agency to liability for even speaking to a person about this order, as that could be construed as a detention. Furthermore, holding someone for the purpose of issuing a citation related to a fine, would be, under current law, a legal detention.
The sheriff’s office must consider the intent of the Texas Constitution in regards to how laws of the land are passed and enforced in this state. Traditionally, law enforcement only enforces laws and statutes that are the product of the legislative process or the product of regulatory authorities authorized by the legislature. The further removed we become from this, the more liability and responsibility we incur as an agency.
The sheriff will not require deputies to wear face masks on duty for two reasons:
- The wearing of objects near the face and neck provide an offender possible tools to impose harm to an officer, and the office will not put the deputy in an unnecessary disadvantage during physical confrontation. For the same reason, deputies at this agency are not required to wear neckties on duty unless in ceremonial events.
- In light of recent allegations in the nation of misconduct on the part of police, The sheriff will not restrict the deputy’s ability to clearly communicate intentions when in contact with citizens.
The UCSO will not prohibit a deputy from wearing a face mask if they so choose.
The sheriff’s office does not make this statement as any disrespect to Gov. Abbott and we encourage all citizens to take reasonable precautions in their own life to mitigate possible exposure to the coronavirus.
In a video message, Wood County Judge Lucy Hebron asked citizens to be careful while continuing their July 4th holiday plans. She did not ask or suggest residents cancel plans, nor did she add any restrictions.
NACOGDOCHES COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
While Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges says it's on all of us to try and limit the spread of the coronavirus, his office will also not enforce the governor's mandate.
"We all need to do our part in stopping the spread of the coronavirus," said Sheriff Bridges. "We all need to step up and do our part. We believe our citizens will act in good faith."
Camp County Judge AJ Mason is opting out of the governor's order since the county doesn't currently have 20 or more active COVID-19 cases.
"Late yesterday Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-29 requiring mandatory face covering for all persons in a public place as of 12:01 p.m. today, with some exceptions," Mason said. "Camp County is currently exempt. Our number of active COVID-19 cases is not 20 or more therefore, this morning I have filed the required form with the Texas Division of Emergency Management attesting to that fact and affirmatively opting out of the face covering requirement. In the event the positive case number exceeds 20, Camp County will immediately become ineligible for this exemption and will become subject to the order."
PANOLA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
The Panola County Sheriff's Office released the following statement regarding the order.
"In response to Governor Abbott’s most recent executive order requiring Texas citizens to wear a face covering in public, we have been receiving calls asking about our local enforcement of this order. The Panola County Sheriff’s Office STRONGLY encourages all citizens to practice safe social distancing, proper personal hygiene, and to use all necessary precautions during these times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we encourage the public to take all necessary precautions, we will encourage VOLUNTARY compliance regarding wearing a mask, but we WILL NOT be issuing warnings OR citations for failure to comply."
WINNSBORO POLICE DEPARTMENT
Winnsboro Police Department Chief Andy Chester took to social media to address the order.
"We are not standing against Governor Abbott, however we will not issue citations for this order," said Chester. "Many of you have seen my personal post, as it was shared to other pages. Yes, I disagree with the order, but as I said in my post, I will respect others. In the last hour before this post, I entered a store and a restaurant, both of which had signs up requesting masks. I wore mine in both. Also in both, there were others not wearing masks. We will respond to calls from business owners that have patrons that refuse to wear them. At the business owner's request, we will ask them to leave. Everyone has the right to refuse service. We will wear masks inside every establishment that wants us to. We respect our community. Standing outside in this heat, I will not make my officers suffer by making them wear a mask all the time. Further, I don’t expect you to either. Please join the WPD in respecting the wishes of others and wear masks in business and restaurants that require it."
Per Judge Leward LeFleur, Marion County is exempt from the order because they do not have 20 or more active cases.
Judge LeFleur does encourage residents to continue to follow CDC recommendations and to pray for those suffering from COVID-19.
Because Morris County currently has fewer than 20 active cases of COVID-19, Judge Doug Reeder says he will file an exemption form with the Texas Department of Emergency Management affirmatively opting out of the governor's order.
"I take personal freedom very seriously," said Judge Reeder. "Therefore, I am opting out of the order. However, I also take personal responsibility just as seriously. I implore our citizens to wear facial coverings when in public and when social distancing is not an option. EVERY citizen owes a duty to their fellow citizen. It is the cost of living in a civilized society. Please consider following this reasonable request in order to protect your friends, family, and neighbors."
Rains County officials released the following statement regarding Gov. Abbott's order:
"Rains County is aware of the Governor’s new order requiring local approval of events with over 10+ people. Counties receive the orders at the same time as the general public, with little guidance from the state. It is not currently possible for Rains County to review these requests before Monday, July 6.
Even with local authority acknowledgement of such events, anyone holding or attending events do so at their own risk, and are highly encouraged to follow CDC guidelines to keep themselves and our communities safe. Anyone attending events this weekend do so at their own risk, and are highly encouraged to follow CDC guidelines to keep themselves and our communities safe."
Gov. Abbott's move comes just days after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stated the country was heading in the "wrong direction" regarding the rise in COVID-19 cases during a hearing before the U.S. Senate.
“It could get very bad,” Dr. Fauci said, warning that new cases “could go up to 100,000 a day” if people continue to defy advice on social distancing and face masks. He said states like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas have each had to roll back reopening plans as cases in those states climb, noting that half of the new cases nationwide have been reported in those states. The sharp increase of new infections and hospitalizations rates, he said, have also jeopardized reopening plans throughout the country.
In response, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Tuesday evening he doesn’t need the advice of Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.
“Fauci said today he’s concerned about states like Texas that ‘skipped over’ certain things. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Patrick told Fox News host Laura Ingraham in an interview.
However, Gov. Abbott says 91 Texas counties saw record COVID-19 case numbers this week.
CBS19 will continue to update this list as more law enforcement offices and county judges reveal their plans.