by Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune.
Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday banning government entities in Texas — like cities and counties — from requiring masks to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The order also says that after June 4, public schools will no longer be able to mandate masks on their campuses.
Starting Friday, any government entity that tries to impose a mask mandate can face a fine of up to $1,000, according to the order. The order exempts state-supported living centers, government-owned or -operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.
The order is arguably the most consequential for public schools. After Abbott ended the statewide mask requirement in early March, school systems were allowed to continue with their own mask-wearing policies unchanged. But after June 4, “no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering,” according to Abbott’s new order.
While 30% of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the vast majority of children are unvaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized last week for children as young as 12. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still only authorized for those 18 and older.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor places.
The governor’s most recent order comes roughly two and a half months after Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate. Despite dire warnings about the potential impact of that decision, key pandemic metrics in Texas have not spiked since then and have gone down in most cases. On Sunday, the state health department had its first day in over a year without reporting a COVID-19 death.
“The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities,” Abbott said in a statement on his latest order. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”
Abbott’s latest order appears to clarify and build on his earlier decision to get rid of the statewide mask requirement. In that order, he said “no person may be required by any jurisdiction” to wear a mask. Now, he is saying a specific type of jurisdiction — governmental entities — can face a penalty for mandating masks.
After Abbott lifted the statewide mask policy, some local governments said they would continue to require masks. Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin and Travis County over their plan to continue mandating masks, and in late March, a district judge denied Paxton’s request for a temporary halt of the local mask requirement.
Abbott’s latest order leaves untouched the ability of private businesses to require their customers or workers to wear masks.