Gov. Abbott: public schools, government entities cannot require masks, UT-Austin makes masks optional

Sheryl Lawrence

Update as of 5:00 p.m. Wednesday:

UT President Jay Hartzell announced Wednesday that masks are optional on UT’s campus. Hartzell said the University recommends for individuals who are not fully vaccinated or have weakened immune systems to continue to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, but it is not required of them.  

Since the new guidance is effective immediately, masks will not be required at commencement or athletic events. 

“We’ve been cautiously optimistic for some time,” Hartzell said in the announcement. “We’ve embarked upon a phased approach to returning our campus to near normal.”

Hartzell said after commencement ceremonies there will be further announcements to the UT community regarding returning to campus in fall 2021.


Original story:

Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday announcing public schools and government entities will not be allowed to require masks at their institutions.

Abbot said beginning at 11:59 p.m. on May 21, any government entity, which includes counties, cities, school districts and public health authorities, that tries to mandate masks can face a fine of up to $1,000. Public schools may continue to follow policies currently in place by the Texas Education Agency until June 4. 

On May 14, UT announced their COVID-19 guidelines would remain the same following the  changes in the Center for Disease Control and prevention guidelines for vaccinated individuals. The University said in a tweet they would continue to monitor the newest developments and update the UT community.

In response to Abbott’s announcement on Tuesday, University spokesperson J.B. Bird said the university will comply with state law, and will make an announcement about changes tomorrow. 

“University leaders are updating our policy to be consistent with the Governor’s order and CDC guidance,” Bird said. “We will share relevant information with the campus community tomorrow.”

During the week of May 18, the University reported zero cases out of the 1,788 proactive community tests performed and reported two cases through clinical testing of symptomatic individuals, according to the COVID-19 dashboard

At the beginning of March, Abott issued an executive order to open Texas businesses to 100% capacity and lift the mask mandate. Austin-Travis County won a lawsuit against the state to keep the mask mandate  in place for the city, which is set to expire on June 15.

Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, is consulting Austin-Travis County lawyers to determine if current health authority rules can still exist given the executive order, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

Austin-Travis County announced Tuesday that the county would move to Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions with new guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals and businesses. Individuals are fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after their single dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

“We did not get to this stage by luck,” Escott said in the press release. “Throughout this pandemic, our community took the necessary protection measures to reduce spread and get vaccinated, which helped us achieve a lower risk level and therefore relaxed rules.”