City of Austin orders businesses to require face coverings for employees, customers; punishable by $1,000 fine

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said cities could mandate that businesses require customers and employees to face coverings. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said cities could mandate that businesses require customers and employees to face coverings. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said cities could mandate that businesses require customers and employees to face coverings. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

After seeking the ability to legally require face coverings to help curb a second surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed an order June 17 that requires all employees and customers on commercial properties to wear face masks. The new order is enforceable by a $1,000 fine and extends through Aug. 15.

The breakthrough in enforcement of coronavirus mitigation measures comes one day after Adler and mayors from eight major cities across Texas sent Gov. Greg Abbott a letter asking permission to enforce a face covering mandate. Abbott previously said government could not force individuals to wear face coverings, only to strongly encourage the act.

On June 17, a Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff found a way around Abbott and signed an order requiring employees and customers to wear face coverings while inside a business, similarly punishable by a $1,000 fine. Abbott said he agreed with Wolff's interpretation of the state orders.

"Judge Wolff’s order is not inconsistent with the Governor’s executive order," said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott told The Texas Tribune. "Our office urges officials and the public to adopt and follow the health protocols for businesses established by doctors."

In a June 17 interview with a Waco news station, Abbott said Bexar County's judge "finally figured out" what state officials have been saying: Governments cannot force individuals to wear masks but can require masks to be worn in businesses. Adler called Abbott's comments "pretty incredible."


Adler's June 17 order requires "all employees and visitors" of a commercial property to wear a face covering except when a person is alone in a separate space or in the presence only of members of the same household, either indoors or outdoors; when wearing a mask poses a greater threat to health or safety than not wearing one; when a person is eating or drinking at a restaurant or bar; or when a person is outdoors engaging in an allowed activity with members of the same household or maintaining a safe social distance of at least six feet.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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