Nearly 80 Texas counties have opted out of Gov. Greg Abbott's mask order. Others refuse to enforce it.
"Nearly 80 Texas counties have opted out of Gov. Greg Abbott's mask order. Others refuse to enforce it." was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
A week later, 78 counties have taken him up on that offer. And a handful of other local governments have insisted that they won't enforce the order even though they don't qualify for the opt-out provision. Officials cited a desire to preserve personal freedoms or concerns about enforcement.
"I think it's an insult to Texans to be required to do something they should have discretion for," said Hugh Reed, the top administrator for rural Armstrong County, near Amarillo, which opted out.
In a press release announcing the order, Abbott said that "wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19." Public health experts broadly agree that masks slow the spread of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend face coverings for anyone 2 or older in public settings.
The order came as coronavirus cases have grown quickly in the state. As of Thursday, more than 9,600 people were hospitalized with the virus.
In order to opt out of the requirement, the counties need to have 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases. Given the spread of the virus in recent weeks, only counties that are sparsely populated and rural tend to qualify. Most are in conservative areas of the state.
Rex Fields, the top elected official in Eastland County, said Abbott's option for counties with low coronavirus case counts "gives people some personal freedom."
But a few local officials without that freedom are also choosing not to enforce the order. In Montgomery County, which has a population of over 600,000 and has reported more than 2,700 coronavirus cases so far, the sheriff's office said July 3 that it would not take action on the mask rule.
“This order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement from detaining, arresting, or confining to jail as a means to enforce the order,” the agency wrote in a press release. “This language strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law.”
The press release added that the department would only respond to calls about violations of the order if they are from an “authorized supervisor representative of the business” that is reporting a person who refuses to leave the property.
In a statement the next day, Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills made a similar declaration. He also said his deputies would not be required to wear face masks on duty