The Common Law
Are COVID masks still legally required?
I'm confused about mask status in Austin. Delta variant is taking hold. I'm seeing more businesses require masks. But others don't. And I think the governor said no masks were needed. What's actually required under the law in Austin?
COVID-19 is trending up again. Austin's on a Stage 5 alert for the first time in a number of months. Signs requiring masks in some locations are becoming more prevalent. And the City, County, and State often have conflicting positions on masks and other preventative measures. Bottom line – it's difficult to track all of the mask orders and know the exact status on a regular basis.
As of now, the start of August 2021, Governor Abbott has an active executive order (Executive Order GA-36) that ended the statewide mask mandate. And while many local leaders think the mask mandate should be reinstated, Governor Abbott's order expressly prohibits local governments from requiring a person to wear a mask ("No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering"). This even extends to public schools, where at present, "no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering." Any attempt by local government to impose a conflicting rule on masks is considered a "failure to comply with [Governor Abbott's order]" and is subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
But as you mention, some businesses have started to require masks again. So how does that work? Governor Abbott's order allows private businesses the right to require masks for customers or employees ("Nothing in this executive order precludes businesses or other establishments from requiring employees or customers to follow additional hygiene measures, including the wearing of [masks]"). Governor Abbott's order also doesn't impact federal property. For example, President Biden signed his own executive order requiring masks in federal buildings, on federal land, and at airports. If someone refuses to wear a mask at a location where masks are required, Governor Abbott's order allows for law enforcement to enforce trespass rules and remove folks that refuse to wear a mask.
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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.