Austin to keep mask mandate, but has little in the means of enforcement

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council announced residents will still be required to wear face masks, despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifting the statewide mandate beginning Wednesday.

The order operates as a public health mandate under the recommendations of Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott.

“In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives. Period. If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will,” said Austin City Council member Greg Casar. “This action is both legal and the right thing to do. If state officials choose to sue, they’ll be going out of their way to harm the health of Texans.”

Abbott announced the end of the statewide mask mandate last week in addition to the end of restrictions on business capacity, saying, “It’s time to reopen Texas 100%.”

Abbott’s decision to strike down required mask-wearing sparked both support and a firestorm of criticism both locally and nationwide. Austin Mayor Steve Adler released a statement saying the state should be guided by “science and data” — both of which indicate mask-wearing is still needed.

Casar further condemned Abbott’s actions, saying: “He’s endangering Texans’ lives so that he can score political points. Locally, we are working around the clock to care for the sick, we’re wearing masks and we’re providing help to those who need it, despite the recklessness and cowardice of our governor.”

Casar added in an interview with KXAN, “I hope that the state government keeps focusing on vaccine distribution and things that protect people’s health, rather than using their limited resources to come and try to mess with Austin again, because we’re doing our best to actually keep the level of infections and hospitalizations amongst the lowest of the big cities in the state, and that’s what we want to keep on doing. I hope the state will support us in that, rather than continuing these legal challenges and fights like we had over New Year’s.

In a briefing with Travis County Commissioners and Austin City Council members Tuesday, Escott explained how enforcement would work.

“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,” Escott said. “That’s a crime they can be arrested for. They can’t be arrested for not wearing a mask. They can be arrested for trespassing. If that trespassing involves violence or threats, it’s going to increase the level of the crime that’s involved.”

Casar says in situations that may turn violent, businesses should call 911. Otherwise, a call to 311 will suffice. The city will send out code enforcement officers to handle mask issues. Casar encourages anyone who sees a business ignoring mask rules to call 311, as well.

Austin-Travis County’s original mask mandate and COVID-19 precautions will stay in place through April 15, unless extended.

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