"More than 91 counties have had record high numbers in the past three days. COVID-19 is not going away," Abbott said in a video announcement explaining his July 2 executive order. "In fact, it is getting worse."
The governor cited the state's rising positive testing rates, from 4.5% in May to over 14% in June, as well as the tripling of hospitalizations.
The rule applies to residents of counties with more than 20 positive cases of the virus. The governor also issued a proclamation granting mayors and county judges authority to limit outdoor gatherings of over 10 people, and making it mandatory for people to avoid groups larger than 10 and maintain six feet of social distancing from others.
The order stipulates that Texans must wear a face covering "when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing."
The order has some exceptions, including children under 10 years old, anyone exercising outdoors or swimming, anyone with a medical condition preventing it, anyone driving alone or needing to show their face to confirm identification. Anyone voting or working a polling location is urged but not required to wear a mask as well, as are those attending or performing religious services.
“If Texans commit to wearing face coverings in public spaces and follow the best health and safety practices, we can both slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep Texas open for business," Abbott said. "I urge all Texans to wear a face covering in public, not just for their own health, but for the health of their families, friends, and for all our fellow Texans.”
The governor said the rule would be enforced on the same level as seatbelt laws, starting with a warning and escalating up to a $250 fine for successive violations.
"No one can ever be put in jail for violating this safe practice," he said. "We just need everyone to do their part to slow the spread."
In June, mayors for nine of the largest cities in the state called on the governor to allow them flexibility in requiring face coverings, and several counties adopted rules requiring masks in public facilities and businesses.