AUSTIN, Texas — Members of the Austin City Council announced that they would continue to require masks despite Governor Greg Abbott's executive order that lifted mask mandates and other COVID-19 safety restrictions.
District 4 Austin City Council Member Gregorio Casar Tweeted about it Tuesday.
This action is both legal and the right thing to do. Cities have independent authority under TX constitution, & state law allows cities to create health rules. If state officials sue Austin, they’ll be going out of their way to harm the health of Texans.https://t.co/W8GtRqLwM4
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) March 9, 2021
The ordinance, released by Austin City Council, spells out the reasoning for bypassing the Governor's order.
"On July 9, 2020, the council adopted Ordinance No. 20200709-003 that authorized the health authority to adopt rules reasonably necessary to protect the public health; and...because COVID-19 remains a public health threat, it is necessary to reauthorize the health authority to adopt rules reasonably necessary to protect public health," says the ordinance.
According to KXAN, the ordinance is technically a public health mandate, under the recommendations of Dr. Mark Escott, Austin's Interim Health Authority.
"We believe in masking. We know it works," said Dr. Mark Escott with Austin Public Health on Tuesday, according to KVUE. "We saw the dramatic impact that the masking mandate had when it was issued by the governor on July 2, with almost two weeks to the date, a substantial and sustained decrease in transmission. We need that to continue. We need the efforts to continue. We need people to continue to mask and distance and do those things that have gotten us out of surge here in Travis County."
Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state-wide mask mandate will be lifted and that businesses will be able to return to full capacity last week.
Originally, Abbott said any local order mandating masks would no longer be valid without a county judge ordering restrictions and that businesses would be able to return to full capacity Wednesday, March 10.
"Texas is in a far better position now than when I issued my last executive order back in October," Abbott said. "It is their business, and they get to choose to operate their business the way they want to. At this time, however, people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate.
After the orders are implemented, businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols as they please.
Governor Greg Abbott made his announcement in Lubbock, Texas where he addressed small businesses and community leaders of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.
"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” said Governor Abbott. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny."
A press release from the governor's office says the state is giving nearly a million COVID-19 vaccine shots a week and that they have already administered 5.7 million vaccines so far. It also says that by March, every senior who wants a vaccine should have one available to them.
Mask mandates in Texas are not completely gone, as the Governor has made it an option for individual counties.
"If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a County Judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies," says a press release from the Governor. "However, County Judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask."
These restrictions, if implemented, may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any business.