'This is not behind us': Hays County leaders react to Abbott ending mask restrictions, capacity limits

Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate, but Hays County leadership has called the order premature. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate, but Hays County leadership has called the order premature. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate, but Hays County leadership has called the order premature. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

On March 2, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new executive order would end statewide mask restrictions and all business capacity limits March 10. However, businesses are still allowed to impose mask and capacity requirements, and the state is still under a disaster declaration.

The order only allows county judges to take preventive measures against the coronavirus if COVID-19 hospitalizations rise above 15%. However, judges are limited in what restrictions they can enact. They may not limit capacities below 50%, and there can be no jail time for failing to follow COVID-19 guidelines or penalties for not wearing a mask.

According to Abbott, the rate of vaccinations was accelerating, but Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said fewer than 2,000 vaccines had been received by the county health department; he said the county has more than 300,000 residents.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 12,750 of the county's residents have been fully vaccinated, and 25,974 residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“After careful consideration and much deliberation, I call the governor’s order lifting the mask mandate ambitious, but premature and reckless," Becerra said in a March 2 press release. "We must follow the science. This is not behind us."

Abbott's order also arrives in the wake of the arrival of multiple coronavirus variants in the immediate and surrounding areas of Texas.

On Feb. 10, the B.1.1.7 strain of the virus, also as the United Kingdom or U.K. variant, was found in a Hays CISD student.

Hays County Emergency Coordinator Alex Villalobos said in the press release other variants had been found in Harris County.

"We must continue to follow CDC best practices and not allow our guard down by discontinuing the wearing of masks," Villalobos said.

During March 2's San Marcos City Council meeting, Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp said there were still unknowns with Abbott's most recent order, but there appeared to be no powers given to cities to restrict business capacity or enact mask requirements.

Buda also held a City Council meeting March 2, and Mayor Lee Ubanovsky said he would speak with county leadership March 3 about the new order.

"If you’re tracking all the numbers, we are at about plus or minus 3 million people who have been vaccinated in Texas," Urbanovsky said. "So, we are kind of low on the percentage scale."

School districts

Abbott's decree left school districts scrambling for clarification from the Texas Education Agency.

In a statement to parents, Hays CISD Communication Director Tim Savoy said the commissioner of education would meet with superintendents across the state March 4 to discuss how the order will impact schools.

HCISD will continue to require masks for the time being, and all other coronavirus safety protocols will remain in place until further notice.

"This district believes masks have been essential in keeping us safe, and many in our community, including teachers and staff, have not yet been deemed eligible by the state to get a vaccine," Savoy said. "For others who are eligible, vaccines have been in short supply."

San Marcos CISD also released a message to parents saying it would continue all current coronavirus safety practices until further notice.
By Warren Brown
Warren joined Community Impact at the beginning of 2020 as the editor of its New Braunfels paper and now reports the news in San Marcos, Buda and Kyle. Warren previously wrote for the Dallas Observer and Fort Worth Weekly and he brings a passion for truth and equality to his reporting.
By Brian Rash
Brian has been a reporter and editor since 2012. He wrote about the music scene in Dallas-Fort Worth before becoming managing editor for the Graham Leader in Graham, Texas, in 2013. He relocated to Austin, Texas, in 2015 to work for Gatehouse Media's large design hub. He became the editor for the Lake Travis-Westlake publication of Community Impact in August 2018.


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