The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 5,489 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, setting a single-day record and prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to urge Texans to stay indoors if at all possible.
Abbott spoke with local media in Austin before the DSHS new case statistics were made public earlier Tuesday, only announcing at that time that the state would be reporting more than 5,000 cases. The previous single-day record was 4,430 new cases reported on Saturday, June 20.
In an interview with Austin’s KBTX, Abbott sounded even more alarmed than he did during a Monday press conference when he warned that COVID-19 was spreading “at an unacceptable rate” throughout Texas.
“We want to make sure everyone reinforces the best safe practices of wearing a mask, hand sanitation, maintaining safe distance,” Abbott said on Tuesday, “but importantly, because the spread is so rampant right now, there’s never a reason for you to have to leave your home.”
“Unless you do need to go out," he continued, "the safest place for you is at your home.”
In addition to the startling uptick in new cases, COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to skyrocket in recent weeks. On Tuesday, DSHS reported 4,092 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, making 12 straight days of record high hospitalizations.
Later that afternoon, Abbott issued an official proclamation that gave mayors and county judges the authority to impose restrictions on outside gatherings of more than 100 people. Previously, they could only regulate outdoor events of 500 attendees or more.
The proclamation also enacted new emergency rules providing stricter health and safety standards for child care centers in Texas. These actions were “based on data showing an increase in COVID-19 transmissions stemming from large gatherings and child care centers,” according to a written statement from the governor’s press office.
Later Tuesday, just southeast of Houston, Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced in a 5 p.m. press conference that he had ordered businesses in his county to require their customers and employees to wear face masks beginning Thursday, June 25 at 12:01 a.m. (just after midnight on Wednesday). He said the order was in response to Fort Bend County passing the “dark milestone” of more than 50 deaths from COVID-19 and the “exponential growth” of new COVID-19 cases in the region.
George’s mask mandate is similar to the orders enacted by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and by other city and county officials across the state in recent days. However, the Fort Bend County order comes with a less severe penalty for non-compliance, with businesses only facing a $500 fine per violation as opposed to the $1,000 fine threatened by Hidalgo’s order and the order in place in Bexar County.
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The Fort Bend County order also contains language that explicitly encourages businesses to provide face masks to their customers if financially feasible. It's also limited to commercial entities, meaning that churches and other places of worship aren’t required to comply. However, George read a statement signed by 42 local religious leaders in support of “simple, common sense measures” like the increased use of face masks by area residents in public places.
This new order comes just shy of two days after George requested that Fort Bend County residents fill out an online survey to share their opinions about a potential mask order. Seventy-five percent of the 17,500 respondents said they would support a face mask mandate that penalized businesses for non-compliance instead of individuals, said George.
George made clear that the new order wasn’t being made lightly, and came about in large part due to requests his office had received from area businesses who wanted the cover of having to comply with a legally binding county order to help them enforce the use of face masks on their premises.
“All our stakeholders believe it’s time for us to do something, because this issue is kind of spiraling out of control,” George said.