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District judge upholds Austin-Travis County mask mandate for schools, government buildings

Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the actions, saying any school district, public university or local government that defies the order will be taken to court.

AUSTIN, Texas — The City of Austin and Travis County will require residents to wear masks in government buildings and public schools, including colleges. Travis County Judge Andy Brown and Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced masks would be required at schools and government buildings on Wednesday and added public colleges to the list on Friday.

The move goes directly against Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning local mask mandates. Abbott responded, saying, “The path forward relies on personal responsibility – not government mandates."

Earlier this week, Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a mandamus petition in the Fifth Court of Appeals to strike down the ruling of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who ruled local leaders could require masks.

The Travis County judge said Aug. 13 that district judges in Dallas and Travis counties have upheld the counties' orders.

"Today’s ruling by another district judge reaffirms the position Travis County has taken all along – GA-38 is overreaching and limits the ability of local elected officials and health authorities to serve their constituents," Brown said. "This is why I issued additional orders early on protecting our school children and our workforce. It is my hope that the governor understands that my fight is against COVID-19 and not against him. As I noted the other day, his threats of legal action are nothing compared to the threat of children getting sick and dying. Now is the time for state and local elected officials to work with one another to take the necessary steps as guided by science and local needs. I ask the governor to join me in this fight against COVID-19."

Officials say there has become a rapidly accelerating need to care for unvaccinated people who have fallen ill as COVID-19 cases fill area ICUs. They said an increasing number of infants, children and teens have also experienced more severe illness due to the delta variant, especially those under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine.

RELATED: A dozen pediatric patients are currently hospitalized in Austin area with COVID-19

“Masks address the surge, and vaccinations will end the pandemic. To get out of this, we need to do both as a community,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County Health Authority.

Both Austin and Travis County's orders follow the Aug. 5 move to Stage 5, as well as CDC recommendations. Under these orders:

  • Students, staff and visitors over the age of two are required to wear a face covering while on school property or school buses during Stages 3, 4 and 5, as set forth in Austin Public Health’s Risk-Based Chart. This includes all public schools, including public charter schools and public colleges in the City of Austin and Travis County
  • An individual over the age of two is required to wear a face covering while present on or in City and County property unless expressly exempted in Section 2 or by a City or County policy applicable to the premises or facility.

Travis County officials say their order is county-wide, so it will affect all school districts within the county.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian said the school district will require masks starting Monday, Aug. 15, in line with a district judge's temporary restraining order against Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, allowing Travis County's mask mandate to proceed.

Killian said Pflugerville ISD is awaiting a final court decision and could change its mask requirements depending on the outcome.

"We will follow the law, whatever it is at that time," Killian.

On Thursday afternoon, Manor ISD said in light of the governor and Travis County's conflicting mask mandates, the district will send an email to parents on Aug. 12, asking for their input. Results of the survey will be shared with the district's Board of Trustees, who will meet on Tuesday, Aug. 17, to discuss the matter.

The new county orders come after several Texas school districts, including Austin ISD, defied the governor’s executive order by mandating masks for the beginning of the school year, in line with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott, AG Ken Paxton challenge Dallas County judge's mask order

“This isn’t the first time we have dealt with activist characters. It’s deja vu all over again,” Paxton said. “Attention-grabbing judges and mayors have defied executive orders before, when the pandemic first started, and the courts ruled on our side – the law. I’m confident the outcomes to any suits will side with liberty and individual choice, not mandates and government overreach.”

"Today's order to require masks in certain places is both to support Austin ISD's decision to protect children and the City's duty to protect its employees and the community," said Adler. "The order requires masks in public schools and inside City buildings as part of my commitment to use all available tools to keep this community safe. These are necessary yet difficult decisions, but those guided by the data and doctors will remain our North Star."

“The order I signed today will protect countless lives and keep our community safe by requiring masks in public schools and County buildings,” said Brown. “Our community faces the largest COVID-19 surge since the start of the pandemic. Kids, unable to get vaccines, are going back to school in-person next week. Our community, public health officials and working families have called on us to take this reasonable measure. If you haven’t yet, this is the time to get vaccinated.”

The orders are effective as of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday.

On Twitter, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said he is working with legal counsel for guidance on imposing mask guidelines as well. 

KVUE has confirmed that Austin Community College will be implementing a mask mandate for all people age 2 or older on campus starting Aug. 20. Most courses will also be held online for the first three weeks of the semester. The college will be scaling back from 15,000 students on campus to 6,000.

To read the orders for Austin schools, click here.

To read the orders for Austin facilities, click here.

To read Travis County's orders, click here.


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