AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order Tuesday prohibiting governmental entities in Texas – including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities or government officials – from requiring or mandating mask-wearing.
According to the governor's order, public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus.
Beginning May 21, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation that's inconsistent or conflicting with the Executive Order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000, the governor's order states.
"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," said Abbott. "Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up."
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 are exempt from the Executive Order.
The Executive Order came hours after Austin city leaders had announced its updated masking rules, which left the mask guidelines in effect through June 15. But the City of Austin said masks could be dropped for those fully vaccinated if a business decides to do so in certain situations. For more on Austin's guidelines released this morning, click here.
Austin Public Health released the following statement regarding Abbott's executive order:
"Dr. Escott and the Commissioner’s Court adopted new health authority rules related to face coverings that included exemptions under certain conditions. These actions occurred before the Governor issued GA-36. As we are reviewing the Governor’s order, we will continue to keep the health and safety of the Austin-Travis County residents as our top priority. Throughout the response, the willingness of the community to protect each other along with local health and safety rules, guidelines and orders has led to Austin-Travis County experiencing the lowest per capita COVID-19 related deaths among metropolitan counties in Texas and one of the lowest in the country.
Science and data-based decisions have led us to this point in the pandemic where we can safely enter stage 2 of our community-based risk guidelines. The Health Authority Rule revisions reflect an improvement in our local situation and a measured relaxation of masking restrictions.
While still in a pandemic, we will continue to monitor the data daily and will progress towards normalcy if our local situation continues to improve."
Travis County Judge Andy Brown also released a statement on Abbott's order, saying:
"Governor Abbott once again put party politics above public health. Today, Dr. Fauci said that kids 11 years old and younger won’t be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine until early 2022. By prohibiting school districts from taking common-sense steps to keep kids safe, the Governor has put our most vulnerable, young children, at risk. GA-35 is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. By prohibiting local communities from having basic mask requirements in place, he has put at risk our public servants and essential workers, folks who have put the health and safety of themselves and their families on the line throughout the pandemic. I will continue to work with our county attorneys and other local leaders to see what tools we may have available to continue to keep our community safe."
Austin Mayor Steve Adler sent the following statement:
"Austin-Travis County has one of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the country, as well as one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country because we have been consistently careful. We will continue to be careful. To that end, over the next few days, we will be speaking with parts of our community most impacted by the Governor’s order, including schools and nursing homes. Our community’s safety remains our highest priority."
Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said the district will require masks on campus and district sites until June 4, per the governor's order. She said the move has made it more critical to increase vaccinations for students 12 and up and their families.
"We know masks prevent COVID-19 from spreading, and there is nothing in the governor’s order that forbids people from wearing masks," said Elizalde. "It only means we cannot require them. We encourage everyone to use their common sense and continue to follow advice from scientists when it comes to protecting themselves from the coronavirus."
IDEA public schools said its campuses will no longer require masks beginning on Monday, June 7. IDEA will continue monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms with required temperature checks for staff, students and visitors and by continued enforcement of social distancing and hand-washing guidelines.
“We would like to take this time to encourage every member of the IDEA community who has yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to do so as soon as possible,” says JoAnn Gama, co-founder and CEO of IDEA Public Schools. “The vaccine is currently available to anyone 12 years or older and is the most effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said the governor's order comes too early.
"The Texas State Teachers Association believes Gov. Greg Abbott’s order ending all masking requirements in Texas public schools, effective June 4, is premature," Ovidia said. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that schools require masks and social distancing for the remainder of the school year because many students have not been vaccinated and will not complete their two-dose regimen of Pfizer vaccines until well into the summer. And many of these children will be attending in-person summer school. FDA approval for vaccinating children aged 12-15 was issued only last week, and there has been no approval for vaccinating children younger than 12."
Pat Heintzelman, president of the Texas Faculty Association, also issued a statement, urging the governor to allow colleges and universities to continue imposing mask requirements:
"Many Texans are not vaccinated, and university faculty and employees have no way of knowing who is and who isn’t vaccinated on their campuses and in their classrooms. Our health and safety and the health and safety of our families are extremely important to us, and that must be a top priority for the governor," Heintzelman said in part. "We must remain careful as this pandemic continues to run its course."
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