On July 2, 2020, Governor Abbott issued statewide order GA-29, setting forth new measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19 (the “Order”). The Order requires all individuals to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth in the following locations, when it is not feasible to maintain 6’ of distance from others who are not a member of the individual’s household:
- When inside a commercial establishment
- When inside any other building or space open to the public
- When in an outdoor public space
This means that face coverings should be worn in all POA common areas, subject to the exceptions set forth in the Order. The exceptions most likely applicable in the POA setting are:
- Any person younger than 10 years of age
- Any person who is exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors while maintaining social distancing
- Any person while in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water
- Any person while consuming food or drink
Please note that a county judge for any county with fewer than 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases has the ability to opt out of the face-covering requirement.
Notably, Governor Abbott has reversed his former position that individuals cannot be subjected to a penalty for failure to comply with the face-covering requirement. The Order explicitly calls for local law enforcement and other local officials to enforce the Order and any local restrictions that are consistent with the Order. An individual violating the Order may not be detained or arrested, but may be issued a fine of up to $250. Additionally, local law enforcement may enforce trespassing laws and remove violators at the request of a business establishment or other property owner.
The Order went into effect at noon on Friday, July 3, 2020, and does not currently contain an expiration date.
In addition to issuing order GA-29, Governor Abbott also issued an amendment to an earlier order, GA-28 (the “Amendment”). The Amendment provides that any outdoor gatherings in excess of 10 people are prohibited unless the mayor of the city where the gathering is held (or the county judge in the case of a gathering in an unincorporated area) approves of the gathering. This limitation does not apply to youth camps and recreational sports programs for youths and adults or swimming pools or water parks which remain limited to 50% occupancy. The Amendment took effect at noon on July 3, 2020. Similarly to GA-29, GA-28 does not contain an expiration date.
POAs are encouraged to consult with their counsel to determine if any stricter local guidelines affecting the operation of amenities have been adopted.
Additional Recommended Safety Measures for the City of Houston
On July 2, 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued additional recommendations aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Residents of Houston are encouraged to do the following for the next three weeks:
- Wear masks when in the presence of others
- Reduce social gatherings to no more than 10 people
- Work remotely, if possible
- If remote work is not possible, ensure social distancing in the workplace
- Reduce business capacity from 50% to 25%
Adoption of these practices is not required by any order. Rather, Mayor Turner’s recommendations are just that: recommendations. However, we strongly encourage POAs to comply with all applicable governmental recommendations in the operation of their offices common areas.