Texas' Mask Mandate Ends Today. What Does This Mean For Texans?
March 10, 2021
Since early July of 2020, Texans have been required to wear a face mask in most public places due to an executive order issued by Texas Governor Greg Abbott [PDF]. That order has been rescinded, and a new executive order that ends the mask requirement in Texas (with some exceptions, of course) goes into effect today, March 10th, 2021. Here are a few takeaways from the new order.
Mask Laws, COVID-19 & Texas Law
We've been keeping track of new orders and laws related to COVID-19 on our research guide since the beginning of the pandemic, including laws governing the wearing of face masks. For a full look at this subject with links to news articles and other resources, please see the Mask Laws page of the COVID-19 guide.
Executive Order GA-29 (effective until March 9th, 2021)
Previously, Gov. Abbott's Executive Order GA-29 [PDF] required the use of face coverings or masks when inside businesses or organizations open to the public or in outdoor spaces where social distancing wasn't an option. Some people were exempt from this order: children under 10, people with a medical condition that prevented them from wearing a mask, and people who lived in counties with very low rates of COVID-19 infections. Additionally, masks weren't required for certain activities like eating, driving, or swimming.
Penalties for violating the order included a verbal or written warning for first-time offenders and a fine of less than $250 for subsequent violations. Enforcement was up to local law enforcement (please see a more detailed explanation in our Legal FAQ on enforcement), who were not permitted to arrest people for violating the mask order unless they were trespassing by refusing to leave.
GA-29 was to be in place until it was rescinded or another order was issued in its place. This leads us to Abbott's newest executive order GA-34.
Executive Order GA-34 (effective March 10th, 2021)
Gov. Abbott announced his newest executive order GA-34 [PDF] on Tuesday, March 2nd, and the order goes into effect on March 10th. The order draws a distinction between areas with and without "high rates of hospitalizations", which refers to a Trauma Service Area with seven consecutive days where more than 15% of hospitalizations are COVID-19 patients. To determine how your location is defined, check out a map of current Trauma Service Areas [PDF] or the list of areas with high hospitalization rates on the Department of State Health Services' website.
For areas without a high rate of hospitalizations, this order removes the operating restrictions for COVID-19 and prohibits requirements for face coverings. This means that businesses and other organizations can be open at their normal operating limits, and while people are still strongly encouraged to wear face coverings in public spaces, the governor's order doesn't require them to do so.
For areas with a high rate of hospitalizations, the order removes both the state-imposed operating limits for businesses and the requirements for face coverings. The order leaves the door open for county judges to implement their own COVID-19 "mitigation strategies", with some restrictions:
- Businesses and other establishments can't be required to operate at less than 50% of their total occupancy limits.
- No occupancy limits can be placed on public and private schools, universities and colleges, religious services, or childcare services.
- Confinement in jail can't be used as a penalty for violating a COVID-19 order.
- No penalty of any kind can be imposed for not wearing a face covering or for not requiring that customers or employees wear a face covering. However, law enforcement officials can remove a person who is refusing to leave an establishment for trespassing.
Can a business still require me to wear a mask?
Businesses and other organizations are allowed to set their own policies on business operations, so a business can still require customers to wear a mask when using their services as a matter of business policy rather than state law. GA-34 [PDF] states that "nothing in this order precludes businesses or other establishments from requiring employees and customers to follow additional hygiene measures, including the wearing of a face mask."
The new order prevents a jurisdiction (like a city or county government authority) from imposing penalties (like a fine or an arrest, for example) specifically for not wearing a mask or not requiring that your customers and employees do so. However, if a business required face masks as a store policy and a person refused to comply with the store's policy, the person could potentially be arrested for trespassing if they refused to leave the business.
If you're not sure whether a business will be requiring masks, you may want to contact them ahead of time to ask about their policy regarding face masks and other COVID-19 precautions. Take a look at the Businesses & Employees section of the COVID-19 & Texas Law guide for more info.
Does the new order mean masks aren't required in schools?
According to the order, public schools are required to follow the guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency, and private schools and higher education institutions should also determine their own standards.
The TEA issued new guidance the day after the order was announced. According to their news update, "local school boards have full authority to determine their mask policy." Check with your local school district if you're curious about any changes they may be considering under GA-34, and find more info on our Schools page of the COVID-19 & Texas law guide.
Does the order affect any other type of organization?
Nursing homes, state-supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care centers are also mentioned in GA-34, which requires them to comply with visitation standards set by the Texas Health & Human Services Commission. Find more information on these standards on the HHSC's website, and check our page on Nursing Homes on the COVID-19 guide for more resources.
County and municipal jails are also ordered to follow guidance from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards regarding visitation. The TCJS indicated that they will release new standards soon, so keep an eye on their website for updates. We'll also post any new developments on our Jails & Incarceration page.
Still have questions about the new order? Reach out to us via e-mail, voicemail, or chat!