Austin, Travis County plan to enforce masking despite governor’s order

Photo of a stack of blue, disposable surgical masks
Austin and Travis County officials are pushing back against the Texas governor's decision to lift a statewide mask mandate. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Austin and Travis County officials are pushing back against the Texas governor's decision to lift a statewide mask mandate. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Officials from Austin and Travis County will use city and county health authority Mark Escott’s jurisdiction to enforce a local mask requirement despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate. While Abbott has said that local orders are unenforceable without a correlated state mandate, Mayor Steve Adler said Escott’s orders still have “the force of law.”

Under the set of standing emergency rules renewed by Escott on March 4, Austin and Travis County businesses are instructed to require masking from staff and patrons. In Austin, individuals must also wear a face covering outside of their own household.

“While vaccine administration is underway, we are still not in a place of herd immunity and need people to wear face coverings in public and around non-household members so we can avoid another surge of cases,” Adler said in a statement.

Escott’s standing orders have been in effect since August of last year and are currently set to extend through April 15.

“The enforcement of those will stay in place, because we have to continue to protect our community so that we can save lives,” Escott said at a March 9 joint session of Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court.


In terms of actual enforcement, Escott only mentioned individuals who defy mask requirements while on a business’s premises.

“If an individual enters a business that requires a mask and is not wearing a mask, and they are asked to leave and they do not, they're trespassing. That's a crime, and they can be arrested for that. They can't be arrested for not wearing a mask, but they can be arrested for trespassing. If that trespassing involves violence or threats, is going to increase the level of the crime that's involved,” he said.

Travis County commissioners voted March 9 to officially approve the ongoing enforcement of Escott’s orders, including declaring a “public health nuisance” if residents defy the rules at local businesses. Brown encouraged residents to continue masking up and to support businesses that follow city and county rules regarding masks.

“If we had these numbers a year ago, there’d be no question about wearing masks and the necessity to wear masks,” he said. “I know that it’s been going on for a long time, but this is still a raging pandemic with different variants floating around Texas.”

City representatives mentioned additional means of enforcement. At the joint session, City Attorney Anne Morgan said that defiance of Escott’s orders could result in a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, and that the rules would be enforced by the same departments that had enforced mayoral orders relating to coronavirus safety precautions.

State officials have challenged coronavirus restrictions in Austin and Travis County before. On New Year’s Eve weekend, the city and county placed a curfew on bars and restaurants and prohibited in-person dining service after 10:30 p.m. After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton legally challenged the order with multiple appeals, the Texas Supreme Court announced it would block further enforcement of the order Jan. 1. The case remains tied up in the 3rd Court of Appeals, Adler said.

Adler drew a distinction between an enforcement of orders coming from his and Brown’s offices and orders set by Escott, who is locally authorized to enforce rules that protect public health, per a July ordinance by the city and county.

“The governor has obviously taken the position that his order trumps a mayor’s or a county judge’s order,” Adler said at joint session. “So as not to politicize this ... we’re not going to enforce the mayor’s order, and let the 3rd Court of Appeals wrestle with that legal question.”

Masks also remain required on any city or county property, according to rules that will expire July 8.
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


MOST RECENT

Tents have become a common sight throughout Austin including along Cesar Chavez Street downtown, but with the passage of Proposition B the city may now consider moving unsheltered homeless individuals to designated sites. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Hall notebook: Designated campsites for the homeless are back on the table

City staff had previously dismissed developing official camping locations in 2019, but new directives from City Council this week could revive the concept in Austin.

Wag-A-Bag is headquartered in Round Rock. (Megan Cardona/Community Impact Newspaper)
Wag-A-Bag to operate under new ownership, name; Austin, TxDOT at odds over I-35 overhaul; and more top Central Texas news

Read the most popular business and community news from the past week from the Austin area.

The Highland Tech Center is an office complex that finished redevelopment in March. (Courtesy Aquila Commercial)
North Central Austin business news: Office complex opens in Highland, picnic meals offered in the parks and more

Mes Amis is an outdoor dining service that provides baskets with French-style cuisine for picnics. Two new fitness studios, Hive + Honey and Regymen, are also now open.

Stephanie Hayden-Howard will become an assistant city manager in Austin on May 10. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Role changes coming for health officials leading Austin-Travis County COVID-19 efforts

Dr. Desmar Walkes will take over as Austin's next medical director and local health authority as Dr. Mark Escott and Stephanie Hayden-Howard transition to new roles with the city.

Barton Springs Pool, shown here in March 2020, will require reservations for residents wishing to visit after 8 a.m. starting on May 17. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Barton Springs Pool will require reservations starting May 21

Visitors who want to visit the pool after 8 a.m. will have to make a reservation for a two-hour block of time.

Road closure stock image
TxDOT to demolish I-35 ramp in North Austin early Saturday morning

State crews will perform controlled implosions of the northbound I-35 to northbound US 183 flyover between 6-8 a.m. in the morning on May 8 and May 15.

A pilot Austin Police Department cadet class is now set to commence in June under an updated training regimen and with additional city and community oversight on the APD academy's culture and curriculum. (John Cox/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Council votes to restart APD cadet training in June, with framework for ongoing reviews of pilot academy

The Austin Police Department's 144th cadet class will now kick off training next month, with continued oversight of APD's instruction and culture throughout the 34-week academy process.

Holland Photo Imaging celebrates 40 years in business this year. (Courtesy Holland Photo Imaging)
The latest business news in South Central Austin

1. Holland Photo Imaging, located at 2125 Goodrich Ave., Ste. A, Austin, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in the community this year. Founded in 1981 by Pete Holland, the business has been owned by residents Brian and Morgan Morrison since 2006. Holland Photo Imaging offers film processing, printing, framing, photo restoration and archiving services. 512-442-4274. www.hollandphoto.com

A sign advertises a property for rent in Austin on May 6. Local eviction orders remain in place through August 1 protecting most tenants from eviction. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Local eviction moratoriums remain in effect despite federal judge’s decision

The May 5 ruling from a U.S. District Court judge striking down a federal moratorium does not affect orders in place in Austin or Travis County.

Q2 Stadium in North Austin
U.S. women’s national soccer team to debut Q2 Stadium next month

The USWNT takes on the Nigerian national team at Q2 Stadium ahead of the summer Olympic Games.