AUSTIN, Texas - "Everybody seems to be on the same page that this seems a bit too soon and a bit too aggressive for where we are in the pandemic," said Austin's interim health authority Dr. Mark Escott.
"I think we need at least another three weeks another month before we think about any aggressive re-opening because we need to vaccinate those folks that are going to be face-to-face with customers," Escott said.
Tuesday, city and county leaders agreed to continue to allow an existing health department mandate to stand, regardless of updated ordinances by the governor.
"We still have all the health authority rules in effect, which require masking in businesses throughout the city and the county. Those things will stay in place, the enforcement of those will stay in place, because we have to continue to protect our community so that we can save lives," said Escott.
"When our local health authority, our expert, apolitically comes to us and says this is important and this is something in our city that we should all be doing, then I need to support that," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler.
The mayor says his order and the county judge's order may be superseded by the state, but the governor supported Austin allowing the health authority to make laws last summer.
So requiring masks in businesses will remain a Class C misdemeanor in Austin, although officials hope to rely more on education than enforcement. "There are not enough police officers, or deputy sheriffs, or code enforcement agents, this has got to be something that the community wants to do," Adler said.
City leaders said they are already hearing stories about business owners battling with customers who think the mask order has been lifted. With the health department's mandate still in place, they hope to stop those incidents and make COVID-19 a thing of the past sooner.
"We have this light at the end of the tunnel, but if people start not wearing masks, then that distance could get longer and longer before we see the end of the pandemic. And that's just not right. It's bad for the economy, it's bad for public health and it'll cost lives," said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, District 4
The health authority's mandate is in effect until April 15 unless it is modified or extended before then.
The governor's office has yet to respond to requests for comment on the local order.
Gov. Abbott ends statewide mask mandate, fully reopens all Texas businesses
Abbott made the announcement while visiting small business owners in Lubbock. His new executive order effective Wednesday, March 10 allows all businesses of any type to open at 100% capacity and rescinds his previous order requiring Texans to cover their faces.
All places of business, including restaurants, event venues, and bars, will be allowed to reopen at full capacity.
Businesses are no longer mandated to require masks, but they can still issue their own individual mask requirements.
The order does give businesses the power to still require masks and limit capacity if they choose. That means a customer can be refused service, but businesses can no longer point to the law being on their side.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities must continue following guidance from the state's health and human services. Schools are being told to follow guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
Texans have been required to cover their faces in public since this past July when the coronavirus outbreak continued to worsen.