Austin requiring face masks despite Texas governor lifting statewide mandate


The Austin City Council announced Tuesday that customers will still be required to wear face masks inside Travis County businesses despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) lifting the statewide mandate.

Interim Health Authority for Austin Public Health Mark Escott said during a joint Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court meeting that Abbott’s move ends the mask mandate only for individuals. Therefore, the city still can require businesses to implement rules, according to CBS Austin.

Individuals cannot be arrested or charged for not wearing a mask, but Escott said they can face criminal charges for refusing to leave a business if asked. 

The Austin City Council passed an ordinance from the city's health authority mandating mask wearing in July that remains in effect, the outlet noted. 

Last month, Travis County Judge Andy Brown signed an order requiring customers to wear face coverings through at least April 21.

Austin City Council member Gregorio Casar tweeted that the council is “committed to saving lives.”

“If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will,” said Casar. “Cities have independent authority under TX constitution & state law allows cities to create rules. If state officials sue Austin, they’re be going out of their way to harm the health of Texans.”

In a statement to KXAN, Casar condemned Abbott for rolling back the statewide mandate.

“He’s endangering Texans’ lives so that he can score political points. Locally, we are working around the clock to care for the sick, we’re wearing masks, and we’re providing help to those who need it, despite the recklessness and cowardice of our governor,” Casar said.

Abbott announced last week that he was lifting all coronavirus restrictions, rescinding the mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity. 

"We are still strongly advocating that every Texan follow the best practice," Abbott said. "Where we are today is completely different from where we were this time last year when Texans and Americans didn’t know how to deal with this. For an entire year, Texans have learned the best practice, and that is to wear a mask, and we still strongly recommend that people do wear a mask." 

He added that the mask requirement being eliminated “isn’t going to make that big of a change,” suggesting that Texans would continue to cover their faces without a rule.

“We’re just in a situation now where government mandates are not needed because Texans do know best practices,” he claimed.

Many businesses, including Kroger, Target and Walgreens, announced that they would keep their mask requirements in place, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Abbott faced widespread backlash from Democrats, who argued the move will produce more community transmission of the coronavirus as more infectious variants make their way across the U.S. and the globe.

President Biden called it a “big mistake” and said that “we are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”

The president went on to criticize the “Neanderthal thinking” of Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who also repealed a statewide mask mandate. 

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