The orders take effect at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 12, and apply as long as the area is under Stage 3, 4 or 5 community risk-based guidelines.
The new mask mandates defy Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order prohibiting mask mandates by local governments, signed in May, and follow Austin ISD's decision to require masks on campuses beginning Aug. 12.
"Today's order to require masks in certain places is both to support Austin ISD's decision to protect children and the city's duty to protect its employees and the community," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement. "The order requires masks in public schools and inside city buildings as part of my commitment to use all available tools to keep this community safe. These are necessary yet difficult decisions, but those guided by the data and doctors will remain our North Star."
The orders stop short of requiring masks inside private businesses, a provision included in a mask mandate issued earlier the same day by Dallas County, which was granted a temporary restraining order by a district judge declaring Abbott's executive order to be unenforceable.
The move by Austin and Travis County comes just as intensive care unit admissions reach their highest number at any time in the coronavirus pandemic, with 198 COVID-19 patients in Austin-area ICUs as of Aug. 11. Of those patients, 66%—132 people—are on ventilators. Health authorities have warned in August that hospitals are struggling to staff their critically full ICUs as the highly contagious delta variant brings more patients to the hospital.
Masks, Austin-Travis County health authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said, are essential to curbing the surge of coronavirus.
“Masks address the surge, and vaccinations will end the pandemic. To get out of this, we need to do both as a community,” Walkes said.
Later the same evening, Abbott issued a statement warning he would sue any school district or local government official who defied his executive order banning mask mandates, and that he had filed a petition against the Dallas County judge who issued the temporary restraining order.
"The path forward relies on personal responsibility—not government mandates," Abbott wrote in a tweet.
Brown doubled down on the local mask policy following the governor's statement.
"Governor, with all due respect, the threat of being sued is nothing compared to the threat of kids getting sick and dying. I will not let that happen on my watch," Brown said.
Governor, with all due respect, the threat of being sued is nothing compared to the threat of kids getting sick and dying. I will not let that happen on my watch. I ask that you join me in this stance. https://t.co/2Q8tUrpZMC
— Andy Brown (@TravisCoJudge) August 12, 2021
Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:52 p.m. Aug. 11 with new information about the governor's response to local mask mandates.