On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order that prohibits local mask mandates and fines cities and other local jurisdictions that continue to require face coverings.
Abbott’s decision comes after a drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths over the last several weeks and a relaxing of face-mask guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for vaccinated people. But some local leaders are perplexed by the decision, says Cayla Harris, Houston Chronicle’s state politics and education reporter. That’s because vaccination rates still lag in Texas compared to the national average, among other concerns.
Who is affected by the executive order?
The order applies to local governments and entities, including cities, counties, public health authorities and school districts; none of them can require masks, Harris says.
“They can encourage them, but they can’t require them,” she told Texas Standard.
When does the order go into effect?
The rule starts on Friday for local governments, and June 4 for school districts.
Who is excluded from the order?
The order does not apply to state-supported living centers, jails and hospitals or private businesses.
How have some local officials responded?
Harris says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has described the order as an “overreach” by the governor, and a “power grab.” That’s partly because Abbott’s decision is seen by some as an opportunity to quiet critics in his own party who have complained about the statewide mask mandate since he implemented it in July, including one of Abbott’s Republican challengers in the upcoming 2022 gubernatorial primary race.
In Austin, where a citywide mask mandate has been in place since Abbott rescinded the statewide mandate in March, Harris says local leaders are now going to “reevaluate” mask rules in light of the executive order.
How have school leaders responded?
Harris says the Texas State Teachers Association argued Texas should have waited to bar mask mandates for school districts for a few reasons. One, most school-age children aren’t vaccinated; the Food and Drug Administration only just approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids age 12-15 last week. Also, some schools will still be in session when the new executive order goes into effect. Lastly, the CDC hasn’t yet issued COVID-19 guidelines for schools for the upcoming school year.
“They’re just all kind of like, ‘This is a little premature,'” Harris said. “If you don’t have a lot of students that are vaccinated yet, then that definitely presents a challenge.”