AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Mayor Steve Adler said Gov. Greg Abbott “broke a promise” when he announced Tuesday that, effective March 10, the statewide mask mandate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be lifted.
During a press conference with Austin-Travis County leaders Wednesday morning, Adler said Abbott “created ambiguity where none should exist” with this decision to rescind the mask mandate.
“At the beginning of this pandemic, Gov. Abbott said he’d be guided by the science and the data, and yesterday he broke that promise,” Adler said. “Masking works, and it continues to be necessary.”
Despite Abbott’s new order, Adler said, the community still has a choice to make. Adler hopes the community makes the choice to continue to wear masks even if there’s not a statewide mandate.
“We can still choose to wear masks,” he said. “Businesses can still choose to require masking. Now is the moment for our community to pull together to help protect ourselves and one another.”
Laura Huffman, the president and CEO of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Adler and urged businesses to continue implementing masking and social distancing measures that “protect both employees and patrons.”
On Tuesday, Abbott said, “it’s time to open Texas 100%.” Abbott said a statewide mandate is “no longer needed,” and added the announcement “does not abandon the safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year.”
Abbott explained under the new order, a county judge may impose certain mitigation ordinances if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions of Texas rise above 15% of bed capacity for seven straight days. But even if countywide recommendations are enacted, Abbott said residents will not be able to be jailed for refusing to follow county judge recommendations.
Moreover, even if hospital beds do rise above capacity for a week, businesses will still be able to operate at 50% capacity.
Travis County Judge Andy Brown said there simply isn’t enough people fully vaccinated yet to lift the mandate.
“With just over 5% of our community vaccinated, this is no time to be lifting the mask ordinance,” he said. “We are not declaring victory on the pandemic. We are not over the pandemic.”