STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
People in Texas may look a little different on the streets today if they follow the orders of Governor Greg Abbott. From the beginning, Abbott has insisted he is the decider on face masks. He once stopped local governments from requiring face coverings, and now he has changed course. In a bid to keep Texas from shutting down again, Abbott said people have to wear masks in every Texas county with more than 20 COVID cases. Texas Public Radio's Bonnie Petrie is covering this. Good morning.
BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What changed the governor's mind?
PETRIE: Well, he said COVID-19 is not going away. In fact, he acknowledged it's getting worse. He noted the hospital systems across the state are reaching or exceeding their maximum ICU capacity and that masks might make a difference. Let's listen.
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GREG ABBOTT: Medical studies have shown that wearing a face covering slows the spread of COVID-19, and it protects you and your family. That is why, today, I am issuing a face covering requirement for all counties with more than 20 COVID cases.
INSKEEP: What are the exact rules?
PETRIE: If you're indoors or outdoors when safe social distancing isn't possible, you should wear a mask in all counties that have more than 20 cases of COVID. Now, there are some exceptions to the mandate. You don't have to wear a mask while you're exercising or voting. You don't have to wear one if you're younger than 10 or if you have a medical condition that makes face covering unsafe for you in some way. You don't have to wear one at church or any other kind of religious service either. But you do have to wear one if you're at a protest that includes more than 10 people.
INSKEEP: All right. So those are the rules, and this is, we'll remember, a numbers game. You don't want the number of COVID patients to exceed the number of proper hospital beds. So how bad are things in the hospitals right now?
PETRIE: Yeah, things are pretty bad in the hospitals right now in the big cities, the small cities. I talked to the head of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which is in charge of coordinating trauma care for an area of Texas that is the size of West Virginia. His name is Eric Epley, and he said at the rate that we're going, Texas is about two weeks max from an all-out crisis. Let's listen.
ERIC EPLEY: We're going to have to transfer people and load balance to all over the state and maybe out of the state. I mean, we're going to have to have additional capability at alternate care sites and those kind of things. I mean, that's several, several weeks away, but those are real possibilities.
PETRIE: So this mask wearing requirement is something that those who have been working to keep a lid on this surge have been asking for. So we'll have to see if it helps. But even if we are all diligent starting today when it's a mandate about this, we won't see any significant changes in this number of new positive cases for at least a week or two.
INSKEEP: Well, I know there's at least one county where officials have said we're not going to enforce this. But what about elsewhere in Texas? Are people receiving this news very well?
PETRIE: Well, in San Antonio in Bexar County where I am, the mayor and the county judge welcomed this news, saying it's about time. They and other city and county leaders across the state wrote the governor a letter two weeks ago asking for the power to mandate masks themselves in their local areas. He straight up said no to that. But then one of them in Bexar County here discovered a loophole that allowed them to mandate mask wearing in businesses. So they've been doing that since then.
INSKEEP: Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio, thanks so much.
PETRIE: Thank you so much.
INSKEEP: And we'll note she's the host of the podcast Petrie Dish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.