As Texas grapples with runaway COVID-19 numbers, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Thursday requiring most residents to wear masks in public places.
The order requires people living in counties with 20 or more COVID-19 cases to wear masks that cover their nose and mouth while inside businesses or other public buildings. Face coverings are also required in outdoor areas where physical distancing isn't possible.
Public health experts, municipal leaders and trade groups including the Texas Restaurant Association have spent recent weeks calling on the Republican governor to establish a statewide mask order as cases spiked dramatically during his reopening plan.
In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Abhi Rahman said Abbott's move comes too late and shows that he's led from behind during the pandemic.
"Texans are still getting sick. Families are still suffering. Texans still don’t know how they are going to put food on the table," Rahman said. "All of this could have been prevented if Governor Abbott had listened to experts and medical professionals in the first place."
Exceptions to Abbott's order include children younger than 10 and people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings as well as people who are eating or drinking or doing outdoor exercise.
A first offense under the order is a written warning. Authorities can punish repeat offenders with fines of up to $250 for each subsequent violation. The order becomes effective at 12:01 p.m. Friday.