AUSTIN, Texas — While the statewide mask mandate lifted Wednesday, Mar. 10, the City of Austin said that it will continue to enforce Austin Public Health's COVID-19 rules, which include requiring people to wear face coverings.
This isn't the first time the City of Austin and the State have been at odds in regard to mask mandates. The two entities had a legal ping pong match last year in regard to coronavirus policies, which confused many Austinites about what rules to adhere to.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler joined KVUE Daybreak Wednesday to discuss the City's decision to continue requiring the wearing of masks.
Here's a look at Adler's conversation on Daybreak:
Question: Well, the rules surrounding the mass mandate, Mr. Adler, are confusing for people at home and across the state. The governor is saying one thing, City and council are saying another. What type of response are you expecting from people and also from the governor?
Mayor Steve Adler: I think there are aspects of this now that are confusing. But what is not confusing, is that virtually every doctor and virtually all of the data points to the fact that masking is necessary and important and in fact largely responsible for the success that we've had at this point. And if we're going to do everything that we can to predict the opening of schools, and more children being able to study and learn in-person, and keep businesses open without the threat of pulling back, what is not confusing is that masks is the answer. You know, the governor told us at the beginning of this process that he would be guided by the data and the doctors. We said the same thing. Last summer, we passed an ordinance consistent with State law that gives cities and counties the ability to be able to pass laws to enforce laws necessary to protect their communities. We did that back in last summer by saying we would follow the rules of the health authority to depoliticize this. When we did that last summer, I got a letter from the governor addressed to me that supported the action that the council took. All we're doing is continuing to abide by that action. The governor's powers are broad, but they don't include waiving any law that he wants to waive. And in this case, the law of the State of Texas gives cities and counties the ability to adopt rules to protect their communities. And we're going to follow the advice and the rules of the health authority. He's our guy we entrust our public health to.
Q: This isn't the first time the City and the State have had different stances on issues. Is there a fight that is likely going to ensue with the State? Is there a legal strategy to fight the State when it comes to the COVID-19 regulations?
Adler: I don't know. I don't know what ultimately happens. But I do know that the state law, multiple state laws, give cities and counties the ability to pass laws to protect their community. And so long as our health authority is coming to us and unambiguously can say that in order to protect the community, to keep schools open, these are the rules we need to adopt. Then as a City, I'm not sure we have any choice but to do everything we can to follow those apolitical rules as proposed. We've done this consistently for the last year to protect our community. One of the reasons why Austin has one of the lowest mortality rates of any large city in the country.
Q: Now, of course, there's a lot of business owners out there that may be looking to people and maybe even customers being upset about the new rules ... wearing the mask or not wearing the mask. What is your message, Mayor Adler, to the business owners, the customers and perhaps even Austin (Police Department) that could be involved if there are some disturbances or maybe even disorderly conduct from some of those customers?
Adler: First, I want to say that I really appreciate all the businesses and the people that have said that they're going to continue wearing masks to help keep their staff and employees safe, because ultimately, this isn't about laws. People should be wearing masks because it's the right thing to do. It keeps them and their families safe. It enables other people to help keep their families safe. It protects our essential workers. So I appreciate that. I had a lot of businesses that came to me when the governor announced his decision and they were upset because they knew that one of the tools that they had with respect to being able to do that in their business was being able to say unambiguously that they're doing it in part because the law requires them to do that. And when that went away, they thought it was going to increase the number of confrontations that might exist. My hope is that with the law being very unambiguous in our city, that businesses can be unambiguous. But ultimately, again, we can't enforce our way to compliance. We've never been able to for the last year. This is about what a community decides to do to keep itself safe. It's the same kind of thing we saw over the last couple of weeks with the storm whether. When the community came together or volunteers and individuals all over the city working to protect one another. We need to do this again. We are so close with this virus. We just need to hold on a little bit longer. Save as many lives as we can while people get vaccinated. We know what works and we have to keep doing it.
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