Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday banning governmental entities in Texas — like cities and counties — from requiring masks to fight against 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 governmental 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 their own mask-wearing policies unchanged. But after June 4 now, "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 last week authorized 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 recorded its first day without reporting a COVID-19 death in over a year.
“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.”
Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued the following statement:
“I believe the best approach is to follow the science and guidance of the health professionals, which we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. Our current priority is to get as many people as possible vaccinated. We can put COVID-19 to rest if enough of us get vaccinated, and I strongly encourage everyone to do so.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued this statement regarding the matter:
“Although our numbers are trending downwards, the virus is still out there. We will abide by Governor Abbott’s executive order and not mandate masks in County facilities. However, it is up to the individual, County staff and visitors alike, to continue to wear masks if they feel more comfortable doing so and to use hand sanitizer. I strongly encourage residents to get vaccinated and if they have not or cannot get vaccinated, I encourage them to wear a mask.”