What to Know
- Gov. Abbott prohibits governmental entities from requiring people to wear masks, effective May 21; violators face a fine.
- School districts prohibited from requiring masks after June 4, including campuses where students are too young to be vaccinated.
- Businesses can still require customers, employees to wear masks.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a new executive order Tuesday prohibiting any governmental entities other than himself from requiring people to wear masks in public. Abbott said the order was authored to defend the liberty of those who want to choose whether or not they wear a mask.
The governor's order, GA-36, prohibits all governmental entities in the state, including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials, from mandating mask-wearing in their communities.
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"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."
Abbott said public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through June 4 but that after that date no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus.
The decision to prohibit school districts from imposing a mandate comes even as children under the age of 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated against the virus.
The Dallas ISD tweeted Tuesday afternoon that they were still encouraging people to wear masks inside school buildings as an added measure of safety for all.
Several other north Texas districts, including Plano and Allen ISDs, had already voted not to require masks next school year.
Just hours after Abbott's order was issued, Dallas' largest teacher union, Alliance-AFT, said the news left many of its teachers on edge.
"There’s still a fear that the younger students, and those that are older ones that have not received the vaccination yet, could be carriers and they could spread it. They could still take it home to their families," said President Rena Honea.
Businesses, meanwhile, are still free to decide whether to mandate mask-wearing inside of their establishments.
In a tweet about the executive order Tuesday afternoon, Abbott added that "Texans, not gov’t, should decide their best health practices."
The governor threatened those who attempt to defy his order and impose a mask mandate or "impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the Executive Order" could face a fine of up to $1,000.
The fine is an increase from the governor's precedent related to consequences for violating his executive orders around masking. In July 2020 when the governor ordered all Texans to wear masks while in public, he also said no one should be jailed for violating that order but that they could face a $250 fine.
In Tarrant County Tuesday, county commissioners voted to immediately suspend the mandate that masks be worn in county buildings. In Dallas County, Judge Clay Jenkins said Abbott's directive goes against current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Unfortunately, the governor has passed an order prohibiting local governments from requiring unvaccinated people to wear a mask in government buildings. The CDC is clear that unvaccinated people should still wear a mask indoors when not in their home. The governor’s order deviates from that recommendation. We do well when leaders follow the science and poorly when they do not,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said a local order requiring proof of vaccination to remove masks in county buildings had already been prepared to discuss at the next commissioner's court meeting.
According to the governor's order, there are still exceptions where mask-wearing can be mandated including 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.