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mask on man
(Charlie L. Harper III)

While the state of Texas will no longer be under a mask mandate effective Wednesday per Gov. Greg Abbott's orders, Austin will continue to require masking due to a loophole that allows the city's health authority to make COVID ordinances.

Under Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott's rule, the city will keep the mandate even as Abbott's reversal comes into effect on Wednesday. The ordinance, signed in December 2020, states that any violation of the ordinance could result in a fee of up to $2,000 for businesses. And for individuals uncomplying the mask mandate in a business, they can be arrested for trespassing, Escott said.

Austin will maintain the ordinance that allows the city's health authority to "adopt rules reasonably necessary to protect the public health." Because the city views COVID as an ongoing threat, and many asymptomatic carriers could transmit the disease if the mask mandate is reversed, the mandate can stay intact.

Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement that he trusts Escott to keep Austin safe.

"Dr. Escott is the appointed public health physician and expert to whom our community entrusts our public health," Adler said. "His opinions, based on science, and data which further supports CDC guidelines have been consistent and have been and are reflected in the orders he has issued. He is committed to defeating COVID-19 in Austin and Travis County and the City will employ whatever tools are available to support his orders for the sake of all Austin schools, businesses and residents."

The announcement comes as Austin and Texas begin to experience less hospitalizations due to COVID complications. On Tuesday morning, however, Escott said in a press conference that the authority does not recommend moving down to Stage 3 restrictions because of a slight uptick in recent hospitalizations.

Adler said that the mask ordinance will not only keep Austinites safe but will also promote the opening of businesses and schools around the city.

"The single most effective thing each of us can do to help ensure schools can continue to open to more students in-person and to continue opening businesses is to wear masks," Adler said. "The rules issued by Dr. Escott will serve to not only decrease the spread of disease but to also increase public confidence in the safety of local businesses."

Adler's statement ended with #MaskUpATX and said that Austin would continue to follow science as Abbott promised. Adler previously said that Abbott broke that promise when he lifted the mask mandate.


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