Skip to main content
Coronavirus in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signals support as Austin weighs fines for people not wearing face masks

In a letter to Austin's mayor, Abbott said the city's consideration of new enforcement measures "to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread" of the coronavirus.

Pedestrians on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake in Austin on June 24, 2020.

Editor's note: After the publication of this story, the Austin City Council agreed to allow fines against individuals and lawsuits against businesses who do not following health authority rules, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

Gov. Greg Abbott signaled his encouragement Wednesday to Austin city leaders to move forward on "additional enforcement mechanisms" related to a recent order Abbott issued requiring Texans to wear masks in most public spaces.

In a letter to Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Abbott said the city's consideration of new enforcement measures "to ensure compliance with my Executive Orders is an important step toward reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)."

"As you know, these Orders were created and adopted based on advice from medical experts, and if these Orders are followed, we will be able to protect both public health and the livelihoods of our citizens," he added.

The Austin-American Statesman reported Wednesday that the City Council will meet Thursday "to vote on a resolution that would allow for a fine of up to $2,000 for anyone violating a 'health authority rule' like not wearing a mask" and to take "civil action against any person who maintains a business or site that does not comply with minimum health standards."

While Abbott's letter did not specify that meeting, Adler said as much Thursday in a Facebook Live appearance.

"I got a letter from the governor supporting what the City Council is doing tomorrow," Adler said.

Late last week, Abbott ordered Texans who live in counties with more than 20 active coronavirus cases to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth while in businesses or other buildings open to the public, as well as outdoor public spaces, whenever social distancing is not possible — with some exceptions.

Abbott further discussed his letter to Adler in an appearance on KXAN-TV on Wednesday evening.

"Local officials do need to step up and enforce these executive orders, knowing that the executive orders that have been issued were intended to slow the spread ... without having to close down," he said.

"The last thing that we can and should do is to close down," he added. "It's my understanding the mayor has made clear that he understands that any attempt to close businesses back down into a lockdown or a stay-at-home standard would be in contradiction of my executive order. And so all that they are contemplating doing, as I understand it, is making sure that they do enforce the existing executive order standards."

The American-Statesman also reported Wednesday that city officials are keeping the option of enforcing a local shelter-in-place order. That order would also allow only employees of essential businesses to go to work.

Asked if he would support such a move, Abbott said, "If it's something people want to do, but not as a mandate. I've been clear, and that is that people should still have the freedom to go about their typical job.

"Let me emphasize this because it apparently needs to be made even more clear. The thing about people wearing face masks, and the reason why I issued the face mask requirement, is that if everyone does wear a face mask, everyone can go into work wherever they may work.

"Our goal is to not have any type of shutdown policy, any type of stay-at-home policy, is to make sure people can engage economically while also slowing the spread," he added.

Disclosure: Steve Adler, a former Texas Tribune board chairman and Facebook have been financial supporters of the Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today