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Austin requiring masks in schools, city property, against governor's order

In October 2020, AISD teachers and students kicked off a late in-person school year with masks, similar to what this year's first day of school will look like. (Bob Daemmrich)

Austin-Travis County city officials have had enough with holding back from issuing local masking orders in the wake of a third COVID-19 surge. The city of Austin and Travis County announced a new masking order that went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

The new order, that defies Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order barring local mask mandates, requires everyone on Austin's public school grounds or city and county property to wear a mask. "These are necessary yet difficult decisions, but those guided by the data and doctors will remain our North Star," Mayor Steve Adler said.

At the highest level of risk in Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, the seven-day average for hospitalization is 84 with only six ICU beds available as of Wednesday evening. At Stage 5, the county was already recommending everyone wear a mask and that those unvaccinated avoid nonessential trips. The area stepped into the Stage 5 zone last week, but due to Abbott's order, couldn't enforce any of its recommendations.

The governor is standing his ground on his decision to ban local mandates. When Dallas and Bexar counties secured a temporary restraining order against Abbott's ban and issued an emergency order to mask in schools and commercial entities, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the filing of a petition to "strike down" the mask mandates.

While Austin could face the same fate, Adler told KXAN, "We've already been in court twice with the governor. The district court the last two times has upheld our ability to issue these kinds of orders locally."

The city's order backs up Austin ISD's mask mandate, announced on Monday, for when school officially starts next week.

Even without a city-wide mandate, some businesses have heeded the guidance from APH by requiring masks and in some cases proof of vaccination.


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