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(Office of the Governor)

Gov. Greg Abbott says he will not impose another mask mandate, despite a rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state and Austin health officials asking all residents to wear masks.

Abbott told KPRC-TV in Houston on Tuesday that reasons not to reinstate a mask mandate are "very clear" and it would be "inappropriate to require people who already have immunity to wear a mask."

Earlier this week, COVID cases and hospitalizations in the five-county Austin metro reached the Stage 4 threshold of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines for the first time since February. Local officials are asking residents, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask while indoors as if in Stage 4, although an official shift has not been announced.

But even so, local officials can only recommend masking since Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting mask mandates in May. Texas was one of the first states to lift the mask mandate, which had been in effect from early summer 2020 through March.

During the press conference, Abbott shut down thoughts of future restrictions, saying he believes Texas has advanced "past the time of government mandates," and we are now in "the time for personal responsibility."

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention still says it is safe for vaccinated individuals to go mask-free in most indoor settings, likewise with Austin's Stage 3 guidelines, though the World Health Organization is still recommending that people wear masks.

Only 44% of Texans are vaccinated, which is among the bottom 30% nationwide, compared to more than 60% in Austin. Earlier this week, Texas' positivity rate went above 10% for the first time since February, with Austin on track at 9.6%, a ceiling that Abbott had previously called a "warning flag."

So far four cases of the Delta variant have been confirmed in Travis County, and the seven-day moving average has gone from 8 to 32 cases since the beginning of July. Austin is edging into Stage 4 territory with 163 new cases and 41 new hospital admissions today alone.

More than 99% of hospital admissions in Texas are among unvaccinated individuals.

Although a masking mandate remains off the table, some local businesses are choosing to take matters into their own hands. Waterloo Records is asking that customers resume masking while shopping in-store, and the Hideout Theatre is requiring that patrons wear masks during shows.

Abbott also doubled down on keeping the mask mandate out of schools when students return in the fall, saying "they can by parental choice."


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