What to Know
- Gov. Abbott says Texas will not return to a mask mandate saying, "it would be inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."
- To prevent infection, Abbott says, "The most important thing we can do is to work to ensure that every Texan has incredibly easy access to vaccines."
- Children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for vaccines and it's not clear when that approval will come; an FDA official told NBC News approval could come early to midwinter.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) says despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state of Texas there will be no return of the mask mandate for anyone, including schoolchildren.
With Delta variant cases now making up 83% of the new cases in the United States and with children returning to classrooms next month, many parents were left wondering if the governor was considering modifying his executive order which currently prohibits any governmental entities other than himself from requiring people to wear masks in public to possibly mandating them for unvaccinated schoolchildren.
On Tuesday, the governor made it clear during an interview with KRPC-TV in Houston that, "kids will not be forced by government or by schools to wear a mask in school."
“There will be no mask mandate imposed, and the reasons for that are very clear,” Abbott said. “There are so many people who have immunities to COVID, whether it be through the vaccination, whether it be through their own exposure and their recovery from it, which would be acquired immunity, it would be inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."
That guidance may make sense for people eligible for the vaccine or for those who have had COVID-19, but it leaves questions for those who are under the age of 12 and not yet protected by a vaccine.
The Texas Education Agency estimated in 2019-2020 there were more than 3 million schoolchildren enrolled in Pre-K through the Sixth Grade. Most of those students in those grades are under the age of 12, the cutoff age for eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations.
According to updated guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics released Monday, everyone older than age 2 should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, when schools reopen in the fall.
The leading national pediatrician group said it recommends universal masking because so much of the student population isn't yet eligible for vaccination. It's not clear how quickly that will change, or how likely parents will be to get their younger children dosed when the federal government approves shots for kids under 12.
Research consistently shows opening schools in person doesn't generally increase community COVID transmission when masks and other protocols are employed, AAP said, and the emergence of more contagious variants, some of which are linked to more severe outcomes, poses a particular threat to people who aren't vaccinated.
Despite the recent growth in cases and hospitalizations across the state, Abbott said Tuesday that people know how to protect themselves against COVID-19 and that "there's no more time for government mandates. This is time for individual responsibility, period."
Citing low vaccination rates among Texans eligible to receive them and the growing spread of the Delta variant, former NBC 5 anchor and current KPRC anchor Kris Gutierrez asked the governor again what can be done then to prevent infection. Abbott again reiterated the importance of vaccinations despite the fact that kids under 12 can't currently get them.
"Well, again, the most important thing we can do is to work to ensure that every Texan has incredibly easy access to vaccines," Abbott said. "Kids will not be forced by government or by schools to wear a mask in school. They can by parental choice wear a mask but there will be no government mandate requiring masks. Kris, what we do anticipate as kids are approaching the beginning of school, and with the Delta variant increasing, you probably will see an increase in the number of parents who are choosing to have the child vaccinated as well as an increase in teachers who have not yet been vaccinated probably going out and getting a vaccination," Abbott said. "I do anticipate seeing an increase in the number of people getting a vaccine."
Meanwhile, the federal mask mandate remains in effect, and travelers on public transportation, in airports, and on commercial aircraft are required to wear masks regardless of their immunization status.