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Texas Gov. Greg Abbot last Thursday issued a statewide mask mandate, ordering residents in counties with 20 or more coronavirus cases to wear facial coverings in public.
In some areas of the state, law enforcement has said they won't enforce the order, which carries a fine but prohibits officers from detaining, arresting, or jailing people as means of enforcement.
In New Mexico, which has required the wearing of face masks in public since May, some law enforcement agencies similarly said they wouldn't be enforcing the order, as the governor promised the state would "aggressively" enforce it.
Scientists are in agreement that wearing face coverings in public prevents the spread of the novel coronavirus, but wearing masks has devolved into a political issue.
Despite executive orders requiring residents in Texas and New Mexico to wear facial coverings in public, some local law enforcement leaders have publicly rebuked the order and said they won't enforce it.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered on July 2 that any person in a county with 20 or more cases of the novel coronavirus must wear a facial covering in business or in an outdoor environment where maintaining social distance is not possible.
At the end of June, Abbott paused the state's reopening plan, re-closing bars and reducing restaurant capacity amid a spike in the state. On Saturday, the Texas Department of Health reported its highest daily increase of coronavirus cases with 8,258 new reported cases of the virus.
Denton County, Texas, Sheriff Tracy Murphree said he would not enforce Abbot's mandate, calling it an "executive order not a law," ABC 13 reported.
"A week ago they were carrying signs that said F the police, and demanding police be defunded," Murphree wrote on Facebook. "They were ignoring the Denton curfew order and blocked city streets. Now those same people are mad at me for refusing to enforce the mask mandate issued by the Governor. Their hypocrisy is mind blowing."
According to the executive order, those who are found without a mask in a required area are given a warning. Repeat offenders would face a $250 fine.
Gene DeForest, a constable in Montgomery County, Texas, wrote that the language of Abbott's order "strips law enforcement of the necessary tools to enforce compliance with the law."
"This order includes specific language prohibiting law enforcement from detaining, arresting, or confining to jail as a means to enforce the order," he wrote in a post to Facebook.
—Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) July 2, 2020
As ABC 13 first noted, the Montgomery County Sheriff's office said it would not be writing tickets to people in violation of the governor's order. According to a statement released by county sheriff Rand Henderson, calls about violations will only be dispatched if a person is not wearing a face mask inside of a business and they create a "disturbance" by refusing to leave the business.
A lawsuit filed Friday by several members of the Houston GOP and two business owners sought a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against Abbott's order, calling it an "invasion of liberty" and arguing its existence was unconstitutional, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Nacogdoches County Sheriff Jason Bridges said it was impossible to track repeat offenders because his officers wouldn't "keeping a database of people who are wearing a mask and who are not" because it did not have the "time or energy" to do so, according to ABC 13.
In a tweet, Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, called the order a "draconian mask law."
—Joe Gamaldi (@JoeGamaldi) July 2, 2020
"Everyone needs to wear a mask, but don't put us in this position," Gamaldi said.
Some New Mexico law enforcement have likewise refused to enforce the governor's mask order
It's not just Texas, either. Some law enforcement agency leaders in New Mexico, like Lea County Sheriff Corey Helton, said they wouldn't enforce Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's mask order, according to KRQE. The offices of the Chaves County Sheriff and the Quay County Sheriff also said they wouldn't issue tickets for those in violation of the state mandate.
While Grisham's mask mandate has existed since May, the New Mexico governor said July 1 the state would begin to "aggressively" enforce the mandate in the face of growing COVID-19 cases. She said violators would face $100 fines if found in violation of her order, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The state reported 287 new cases of the virus on Saturday, bringing the total over 13,000, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Masks have become a political quagmire
Despite evidence and testimony from US top health experts that masks can greatly reduce COVID-19's spread, their use has become the center of ongoing political arguments.
President Donald Trump, who has refused to wear a mask in public, said last week he believed masks were "good" and he was "all for" them. But at his in-person campaign events, the president has not required them. Some GOP lawmakers have even opted against wearing them on the House floor.
A lawsuit was filed last week in the state of Florida by four residents of the city of Palm Beach over a local mask order, arguing it infringes on their Constitutional rights, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has refused calls to implement a statewide mask order even though cases in the state have significantly increased since the state reopened businesses.
Amid the current spread of COVID-19 infections, there have been calls for a nationwide mask ordinance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week she believed one was "long overdue." While US Surgeon General Jerome Adams has encouraged the use of facial coverings, he said on Friday that he opposed a mask mandate, fearing it would lead people to "rebel."
"Here's the challenge, if you make something mandatory, particularly for the younger age groups we are talking about, many of them will rebel and do the exact opposite," Adams said during an interview on NBC's "Today" show. "I think it's more important from a health perspective we help people understand why these are important and we help them understand why they benefit from wearing them."
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