Gov. Abbott clarifies gathering rules, says Brazos Co. hospitalizations are “overwhelming”
BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - In an interview with KBTX, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stressed the importance of face masks and social distancing ahead of the Independence Day holiday, citing “overwhelming” hospitalizations and case growth in Brazos County and across Texas. The governor also clarified his Thursday proclamation and executive order, which required face masks across the state and limited outdoor gatherings of ten or more people.
Governor Abbott said his holiday message to Texans was that Memorial Day celebrations should be a warning, as they proved to be a catalyst for an increase in the state’s COVID-19 cases. The governor urged Texans to celebrate Independence Day and spend time with family while wearing a face covering and maintaining distance. Letting down our guard, he said, will lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases, which “will be very challenging for Texans moving forward.”
Abbott said his Thursday orders were based upon data and the best advice experts have about how to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The governor said the state learned from Memorial Day that large gatherings were “massive spreaders” of coronavirus. He stressed the state’s relatively low numbers ahead of the Memorial Day holiday and said officials learned through June that those and other large gatherings led to the spread of COVID-19.
Abbott said his Thursday proclamation prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than ten people. The governor said the ruling was designed to make sure that gatherings like fireworks shows have officials in charge with a focus on making sure those gatherings are safe. Local elected officials can grant a waiver to events based upon social distancing and infection control protocols that the event organizer has in place.
Abbott said his intent is for the mask order to only be in effect until the state is able to “bend the curve” and reduce the spread of coronavirus. He reinforced that cases had “skyrocketed” and pointed to Brazos County as a prime example of an area where cases had gone from single digits to well over 100 cases per day. The governor called hospitalizations in Brazos County in particular “overwhelming” and said it required people to act.
The governor said COVID-19 is spreading more rapidly now than ever before, not just in big cities, but in counties across the state. Still, he said people can continue working and going to the store, provided they wear face masks, which he emphasized are “proven to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
To that point, he said small business owners should not be worried about sudden business closures, but should strongly commit to lead with safe business practices. When asked about whether other business closures could come as suddenly as his decision to close bars, Abbott said that decision was made based on data from local public health authorities, along with photos and video showing transmission in bars. Currently, he said, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted in settings like hair salons or gyms. Abbott said he also expects Texas will lead the nation in new job growth for the month of June, as the state did in May.
The governor said two exemptions from his orders were based on constitutional grounds: churches and elections are both exempted from face mask and gathering rules. Still, Abbott said face masks are strongly encouraged and stressed that protocols for churches already include safe distancing practices. Abbott says the state’s GOP convention will also fall under constitutional protection because of the freedom of assembly, but he insisted the event would require protocols including social distancing and masks.
The governor said any additional closures of beaches or parks would also come on a local basis, citing differing input from regions across the state about why closures were necessary. Any additional closures, he said, will be based on data on the ground at a particular location.
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