Austin and Travis County require businesses to post whether they require masks, COVID-19 tests or vaccinations
Starting Monday, businesses in Travis County and the City of Austin will have to post a sign that indicates whether employees and customers need to wear a mask, show a negative COVID-19 test or be vaccinated against the virus.
Business owners are also required to post a sign saying local health officials recommend people wear masks and get vaccinated against the virus.
"We are enabling businesses to better protect public health and to make sure they have enough healthy workers to stay open,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a press release.
Local officials issued this new order Thursday, citing the historic swell in the number of COVID-19 cases in the area fueled by the omicron variant. On average, about 900 people a day are testing positive in Travis County and area hospitals are admitting about 100 people a day with the virus.
Last week, the city and county announced they would move to the highest stage of their COVID-19 risk guidance. In Stage 5, people who are fully vaccinated and boosted should wear masks when away from home. Unvaccinated people, and those who still need a booster shot, should avoid gatherings and traveling and get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.
While businesses in violation of the new orders face fines up to $1,000, Austin and Travis County are not going as far as forcing businesses to require masks, negative tests or vaccination cards for employees and customers. Orders from Gov. Greg Abbott issued last year prohibit such moves.
Adler said another reason he wanted to issue this order is to make clear to businesses that they have, he believes, the right to require precautions like masking and vaccinations.
"All this does is make sure that businesses know that they have the authority to decide that question for themselves," Adler told KUT. "We're doing this in response to confusion."
A spokesperson for Abbott's office told KUT that Abbott's previous orders, which prohibit businesses from having mask or vaccine mandates, preempts any power a local government gives to businesses to require such precautions.
“Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order," Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in an emailed statement. "Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated.”
Adler told KUT he believes Austin and Travis County have the authority to enforce a mandate like this one after a ruling last week from an appeals court confirmed Harris County's authority to mandate masks. A panel of judges upheld a lower court's ruling which stated that Abbott went beyond his authority by prohibiting local governments from requiring masks.
"I don't know whether or not this'll get challenged," Adler told KUT.