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Abbott Bars Local Leaders, School Districts From Issuing Mask Orders

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Gabriel C. Pérez
Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday prohibiting local governments, school districts and health authorities from ordering the use of face coverings.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting cities, counties, school districts, public health authorities and other government entities from requiring people to wear face coverings.

Abbott's announcement comes as Austin Public Health downgraded the risk-based restrictions in the area to stage 2. Local guidelines now more closely resemble guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, which said fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear a mask in public in most situations.

But the order runs counter to the Austin school district's decision to continue requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors.

According to Abbott's order, public schools may continue following mask-wearing policies only as allowed by Texas Education Agency guidelines through June 4. On that date, TEA is expected to revise its rules and eliminate all mask-wearing orders.

In a statement Tuesday, Austin Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said the district will ask anyone on campus to continue wearing masks until the June 4 date.

"Since the Governor’s executive order forbids mask mandates after June 4, it has become all the more critical to increase vaccinations for our students 12 and up and their families now and throughout the summer," Elizalde said. "We know masks prevent COVID-19 from spreading, and there is nothing in the Governor’s order that forbids people from wearing masks. It only means we cannot require them."

Travis County Judge Andy Brown criticized Abbott's order, calling it "irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst."

"By prohibiting school districts from taking common-sense steps to keep kids safe, the Governor has put our most vulnerable, young children, at risk ... By prohibiting local communities from having basic mask requirements in place, he has put at risk our public servants and essential workers, folks who have put the health and safety of themselves and their families on the line throughout the pandemic," Brown said.

Abbott's order allows state-supported living centers, hospitals owned or operated by a government entity, correctional facilities and jails to continue using mask-wearing policies.

Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera is an assistant digital editor for KUT.
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