Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas on Tuesday issued an executive order banning government-issued mask mandates.
“No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering,” the order said.
Abbott’s order stated that as of May 21, any entity requiring masks could face a fine of up to $1,000.
Although schools are included in the order, Abbott said that schools can continue with their current mask policies through June 4.
After that, “no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering,” the order said.
“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,” Abbott said in a news release.
“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.”
Government-owned or operated hospitals, state-supported living centers, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities and Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, as well as county and municipal jails, are exempt from the order.
Abbott clarified that voluntary mask-wearing is fine.
“Anybody can wear a mask if they want to. It’s just that it’s a decision to be made by Texans, not to be forced by government,” the governor said, according to CNBC.
Abbott made it clear that his goal is to jump-start Texas back to normal life.
“The COVID situation in Texas is such that we can and should be open 100%,” he told CNBC.
“We can eliminate government-required masks, but we always encourage people to make their own choice for themselves and for their own safety.”
The Texas State Teachers Association objected to the order, according to The Texas Tribune.
Union leader Ovidia Molina said Abbott should have waited until the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its guidance for the next school year.
She also said action by some schools to revoke mask mandates was “ill-advised.”
“The health and safety of our students, educators and communities must remain our first priority as we attempt to emerge from this pandemic,” Molina said.
The school year in Texas is almost over, with the last day of classes for the state’s biggest school district, Houston ISD, falling on June 11. May 27 is the last day for some students in the state’s second-biggest district, Dallas ISD.
Texas A&M University, responding to the order, announced the end of its mask requirement “effective immediately and therefore applies to remaining commencement ceremonies, as well as indoor and outdoor facilities and venues.”
Democratic Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner called Abbott’s order “a clear overreach.”
“His power is not absolute,” the mayor said, according to CNN.
“If you are a city of Houston employee or entering a city facility and you have not been fully vaccinated, you should wear your mask,” Turner said. “We are not mandating it, but I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their family, and their co-workers.”
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