Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order on May 18 that bars local governments and schools from requiring masks indoors, just days after federal health officials relaxed guidance related to face coverings for vaccinated people.
Local Texas governments have to end their mask mandates by May 21, the executive order states, and schools have to do the same by June 4. If local governments fail to comply, they could face fines of up to $1,000, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
“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,” the Republican governor said in the statement. “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities.”
Abbott wrote in a tweet that it should be up to Texans, and not the government, to “decide their best health practices.”
It comes as Texas recorded zero COVID-19 deaths for the first time since tracking pandemic data, Abbott said on May 16. He also noted that the state reported the fewest number of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, or novel coronavirus, cases in more than 13 months and the lowest number of hospitalizations for the virus in 11 months.
Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden had denounced Abbott and alleged the number of CCP virus cases would rise when the governor announced on March 2 that the state would lift its statewide mask mandate.
On May 18, Abbott said state residents “can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, last week said that—in most cases—fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear a mask indoors or outdoors. Walensky has since told news outlets that she believes unvaccinated children should wear masks indoors.
After Abbott ended the statewide requirement for masks in March, school systems were allowed to keep their own mask-wearing policies intact; the May 18 order stipulates that “no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering.”
According to a March Lancet study, children especially “remain at low-risk of COVID-19 mortality.”
A number of Republican-led states in recent months have either moved to ease restrictions around masks, banned so-called vaccine passport documentation, or have rescinded local pandemic emergency mandates.