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Gov. Abbott says it’s up to lawyers not him to ensure local leaders understand executive orders

When asked why he didn't explain how face mask rules could be enforced, the Texas governor said it's up to local leaders and their lawyers to understand orders.

DALLAS — Following a week of rising cases and hospitalizations across the state of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott joined WFAA on Friday to answer some questions about COVID-19 and what the state is doing.

We have over 3,000 people in hospitals with COVID-19. You’ve been focusing on the hospitalizations rate rather than the new case rate. How many more people have to go to the hospital before you and other state leaders mandate more aggressive restrictions to slow the spread?

We are working to make sure we do contain the spread, while also making sure anyone who does get COVID-19 will have a hospital bed available for them.

Understanding this, and that is most people who get COVID-19 don’t need to go to a hospital. In fact, about 90% don’t need to go to a hospital. But those that do, we want to make sure there will be a hospital bed there for them. There are plenty of hospital beds available across the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

That said I want you to know that we are making sure that everybody is following the rules and standards and protocols that have been established to make sure that we do open up safely. 

Let me give you an example, and that is there have been some reports in some regions that bars are not following the protocols appropriately, and as a result they get too crowded and that can lead to the spread of the coronavirus. 

As a result, TABC has already been issuing revocations of licenses to serve alcohol for a 30 day period. There now will be serious consequences for bars, restaurants and other settings that are not following the protocols to make sure we slow the spread of COVID-19.

Can counties enforce a mask ordinance on individuals?

Based upon the language in my executive order it does two things. On a statewide basis, there can be no imposition of a fine or criminal penalty for an individual for failing to wear a mask. That’s part of the individual liberty that we’re protecting on a state-wide basis.

On a local basis, decisions can be made to require customers of businesses to wear a face mask to slow the spread within a business where customers may congregate.  

If you say Texas is pro-business why are you putting the mask responsibility on the backs of business owners? 

This is actually something that the businesses themselves want to ensure exist. One thing businesses have realize is that if they don’t provide a safe space for their customers, customers won’t come.

This happened earlier today. AMC, the theater company, announced they were changing the policy to actually require customers to wear face masks because of the backlash they were facing from their customers by not requiring it. 

Another thing that it does, it establishes a level playing field for all businesses so all businesses are following the same standards.

There’s a broader issue at play also, and that is that as individuals lets’s say walk around the community they can avoid spreading COVID-19 to others. It’s only when they get together in enclosed spaces like a business where there could be tens or dozens or hundreds of people inside one business where it could spread. Hence, the necessity in those locations to ensure people will be wearing a face mask so they will be preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Why did it take until this week to clarify that local governments can require businesses to require masks? Shouldn’t that have been done publicly when businesses started to reopen instead of assuming that local governments read and understood your executive order. We could have avoided a lot of confusion.

It actually was done publicly when I released my executive order. I just have to assume that everyone will read my executive order. 

It’s impossible for me to get up and read the entire order itself. 

It is possible, however, and necessary for the general counsel for all counties and cities to make sure they read the executive order, understand it and implement it. And that is exactly what they are doing. 

It took several weeks, because in the writing, it was confusing, obviously, because local governments didn’t move forward with it right away.

Actually, it’s very clear. And this is why counties have lawyers and lawyers will pour over an executive order, which is the standard. There is nothing in this executive order that prevents a customer from following additional hygiene measures when obtaining services and that would include things like wearing a face mask. That’s really simple. Anyone can figure that out. 

As a result that exactly what some counties have done. They read the executive order and are applying the executive order. 

What do want to tell Texans about these rising cases and wearing their masks? 

We have to coexist with COVID-19 until we get medications to treat it. As a result, it is very important as we open up for business people do those three things they know to do: wear a face mask, wash their hands, and make sure you maintain social distance practices. If you do that, we will be able to continue opening up business in Texas.

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