Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, on Thursday signed an executive order prohibiting cities and other government entities in the state from enacting vaccine requirements or mask mandates to protect against the coronavirus, even as the virus’s more contagious delta variant drives another surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas.
Abbott’s order applies to any government entities receiving state funds, including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities and government officials. He also declared that there be “no COVID-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment” in the state in order to “ensure the ability of Texans to preserve livelihoods while protecting lives.”
The order, Abbott said in a statement, was to “provide clarity and uniformity” in the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The governor claimed that Texans had “mastered the safe practices” that help prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19.
“The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott stated. “Texans … have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities.”
The governor added that vaccines remain the most effective defense against the virus but would never be forced in the state.
Abbott’s executive order made official his repeated statements that he would not enforce mask or vaccine mandates in Texas, even as COVID-19 cases in the state have returned to levels not seen since early spring. COVID-related hospitalizations in Texas have risen nearly 40% in the past week.
Many officials have voiced concern that COVID cases are rising again just before the academic year is set to begin in many school districts across Texas, while children under 12 remain ineligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week changed its guidance to recommend all children over 2 years old wear a mask when they return to school, regardless of vaccination status.
The Texas State Teachers Association on Tuesday called on Abbott to withdraw his prohibition on mask mandates and leave the decision up to individual school districts.
“If Gov. Abbott really cares about the health and safety of Texas students, educators and their communities, he will give local school officials and health experts the option of requiring masks in their schools,” Ovidia Molina, president of the teachers union, said in a statement.
Several Democrats blasted Abbott’s executive order Thursday, accusing the governor of caring more about his political career than his constituents. Abbott is running for reelection next year for a third term and two of his Republican primary challengers have criticized him as being overly reliant on the federal government in his response to the pandemic.
“If he wasn’t running for office he’d be more responsible. Instead, people are going to get sick, or worse,” Texas state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat, tweeted.
Texas state Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat, called Abbott’s ban “beyond reckless.”
“Governor Abbott has decided Texans will die to maintain his political ambitions,” Wu tweeted.
Abbott’s executive order came the same day President Joe Biden announced that all federal employees must be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Federal employees who chose not to get the vaccine will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing at work, as well as be tested regularly for the coronavirus.
“This is not about red states and blue states. It’s literally about life and death. It’s about life and death,” Biden said Thursday, once again urging those who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so right away.
On Wednesday, Abbott issued another executive order allowing state troopers to stop and “reroute” vehicles transporting migrants — warning that those migrants “pose a risk of carrying COVID-19 into Texas communities.” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland immediately declared that order “dangerous and unlawful” and urged Abbott to rescind the directive.