Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued an executive order Thursday requiring all Texans to wear a face covering in public in counties with 20 or more positive coronavirus cases.

Why it matters: It's a dramatic reversal by the Republican governor that underscores the severity of the outbreak in Texas, which set a single-day record on Wednesday with more than 8,000 confirmed new cases. On June 3, Abbott issued an executive order banning local governments from imposing fines on people who don't wear masks in public.

  • Abbott also issued a proclamation on Thursday allowing mayors and county judges to restrict outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

But, but, but... Exceptions for masks while in public include attending church, consuming food or drink while seated at a restaurant, swimming, voting or giving a speech to a public audience.

The big picture: Texas has reported more than 175,000 total confirmed cases and 2,500 deaths, but is one of a number of states across the Sunbelt that has seen a huge surge in infections in recent weeks.

  • Texas was one of the first states to reopen after its initial coronavirus lockdown, with Abbott allowing the state's stay-at-home order to expire on April 30.
  • As cases began to climb, Abbott urged Texans last week to stay home to fight the "rampant" spread of the coronavirus, warning that it was spreading at an "unacceptable rate."
  • He then took the dramatic step of pausing Texas' reopening plan as the virus threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Abbott admitted in a radio interview last week: "If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars."

What he's saying:

"Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19. We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces."
— Gov. Abbott

Between the lines: Abbott's reversal comes as top Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have urged Americans to wear masks to protect themselves and others, dismissing the partisan divide that has defined the issue since the early days of the pandemic.

  • President Trump said in an interview on Wednesday that he's "all for masks," but maintained that he doesn't think it should be mandatory.
  • On Thursday, the leaders of the nation's top business organizations wrote an open letter urging the White House to work with governors to develop mandatory mask guidelines, after a Goldman Sachs study showed universal mask-wearing could "potentially substitute for lockdowns that would otherwise subtract nearly 5% from GDP."

Go deeper

Sep 29, 2020 - World

U.K. beats previous record for new coronavirus cases

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Exeter College on Sept. 29. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The U.K. reached a new high for total positive coronavirus cases this last week, per the country's Health Ministry, and reported a record number of COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, per the BBC.

Driving the news: Top scientific advisers warned last week that the U.K. could see up to 50,000 coronavirus cases per day by mid-October if current growth continues.

Sep 29, 2020 - Health

NYC's coronavirus positivity rate spikes to highest since June

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York City's coronavirus positivity rate has ticked up to 3.25%, its highest since June, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The jump — from 1.93% on Monday — came on the first day that public elementary classrooms reopened in the city after months of closures, but guidelines state that all public schools will have to shut if the citywide seven-day positivity rate stays above 3%.

Sep 29, 2020 - Sports

Tennessee Titans close facility amid NFL's first coronavirus outbreak

Cutouts of fans are afixed to seats before the game between the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The NFL announced Tuesday that three players and five staffers from the Tennessee Titans tested positive for coronavirus, forcing the temporary closure of the team's facility, ESPN reports.

Why it matters: It's the league's first outbreak during the season, which is not taking place in a "bubble," like the NBA and MLS, and looks set to test if its coronavirus protocols will hold.