Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Wednesday that his office will take Austin officials to court if they continue to refuse to comply with an order lifting mask mandates across the state.
The state’s governor, Greg Abbott, lifted its statewide mask mandate that was enforced in mid-2020 and is working toward loosening other restrictions on businesses so they can operate again at full capacity. The move comes as the state is seeing a downward trend on patients infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, as well as hospitalizations going down to levels not seen in months.
Just a week after Abbot issued his order, officials in Austin and Travis County announced that they intend to contravene the order by keeping their existing health rules in place through April 15, with the possibility of extension. The rules were also updated to require everyone over the age of six to wear a face-covering when on or in city property, subject to a few exceptions. This rule is expected to expire on July 8.
“Wearing a face covering is one of the easiest ways to slow the transmission of disease in our community,” Dr. Mark Escott, Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority, said in a statement. “While vaccine administration is underway, we are still not in a place of herd immunity and need people to wear face coverings in public and around non-household members so we can avoid another surge of cases.”
Paxton told Austin’s mayor and a Travis County judge in a letter on Wednesday that Abbott’s order “has the force and effect of state law and supersedes local rules and regulations,” and that the decision to require masks or impose other CCP virus pandemic restrictions is reserved to private businesses on their own premises.
“It does not rest with jurisdictions like the City of Austin or Travis County or their local health authorities. Nor do they have the authority to threaten fines for non-compliance,” Paxton wrote.
He demanded that Austin officials rescind their local mask mandates and other restrictions by 6 p.m. on Wednesday. If they refuse to comply, they may be faced with a court challenge by the attorney general.
“To that end, you and your local health authorities have until 6:00 p.m. today to rescind any local mask mandates or business-operating restrictions, retract any related public statements, and come into full compliance with GA-34. Otherwise, on behalf of the State of Texas, I will sue you,” he wrote.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown did not immediately respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
A spokesperson for Adler told Forbes on Wednesday afternoon that the city does not intend to rescind their order and that the officials “will continue to do everything within our power, using every tool available to us to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Earlier this year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled to halt enforcement of two orders—one in Austin and the other in Travis County—that sought to impose curfews on dine-in services during the new year’s weekend.
Paxton had petitioned the high court for an order blocking the City of Austin and Travis County from enforcing local orders that would prohibit bars, restaurants, and other venues from offering dine-in food and beverage services between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. on Jan. 1 through Jan. 3.
Paxton appeared to also refer to the court ruling in his letter on Wednesday.
“We have already taken you to court under similar circumstances. You lost. If you continue to flout the law in this manner, we’ll take you to court again and you will lose again,” he wrote.
Lorenz Duchamps and Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.