Governor Abbott ends city mask rules, CDC says no masks needed for vaccinated people

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PRESIDIO COUNTY – Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Tuesday, ending any mask requirements that local governments still have in place. While the City of Presidio has already changed from requiring to recommending masks, some of the City of Marfa’s remaining mask rules will be superseded on Friday when the governor’s order goes into effect.

Marfa and Presidio have continued to set and update their mask rules in light of the changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, including last week when Marfa City Council shifted into Phase II: Precautionary, moving only one step away from Phase I: Business as Normal.

Under the new level, city staff do not have to wear masks around each other, but are required to wear masks when interacting with the public, mostly through plexiglass shields. Visitors to city buildings are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.

According to City Attorney Teresa Todd, the requirement that city staff wear masks when interacting with the public will automatically be superseded when the governor’s order goes into effect on Friday.

Currently, City Hall, the Marfa Activity Center and the visitor’s center are open to the public, with the nutrition center still closed to visitors. Moving into Phase II, the council also reopened the library. That allows up to ten guests to enter at a time, with computers spaced out and available for use again.

In Presidio last Wednesday, the city council had their first in-person and open to the public meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Presidio City Council encouraged, but did not require, mask wearing at the meeting. They also agreed to open the city hall lobby, with masks encouraged, but not required, for those who enter. Presidio already had a policy to encourage staff to wear masks when in close quarters with each other.

City facilities, such as the library and senior center, are still closed until the council has further evaluated current pandemic conditions. Because masks aren’t required for city staff or the public, the governor’s new order will not shift policies in the city of Presidio.

Though the governor is now regulating the city’s ability to require masks, local businesses still have the authority to decide whether to require masks for their patrons and can deny service accordingly.

Along with the state issuing a new order, the CDC last week offered up its own new guidelines on mask wearing, recommending that those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can stop wearing masks indoors and outdoors.

The agency said those fully vaccinated can “resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic,” adding that testing or self-quarantining before or after traveling within the United States is not needed, though masks will still be federally required on planes.

However, the CDC’s mask-free guidelines only apply to those who are fully vaccinated, which occurs two weeks after receiving the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

The CDC still recommends masks that cover the nose and mouth for those who are unvaccinated and out in public. They recommend six feet of distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, hand washing and to “get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.”

Abbott reasoned that the public, vaccinated or unvaccinated, should decide individually whether to wear a mask. “Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” he said.

“The Lone Star State continues to defeat COVID-19 through the use of widely-available vaccines, antibody therapeutic drugs, and safe practices utilized by Texans in our communities,” said Governor Abbott.

Governmental entities that are still requiring masks in any way by Friday, May 21, can be fined up to $1,000, according to the order.

Abbott made some exemptions in his order, allowing state-supported living centers, department of criminal justice facilities, government-run hospitals and municipal jails to continue to require masks on their premises.

He also made an exception for public schools, allowing districts to require masks through June 4 rather than May 21, but ending their ability to mandate masks after, even as summer school approaches. Although vaccinations in Presidio County are high, children under 12 are still ineligible to receive the shot, leaving them more vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus.

The United States is 44.4% fully vaccinated among its eligible population age 12 and up, Texas is slightly behind at 39.2% and Presidio County has exceeded every county in the state to reach 72.3% vaccinated among its 12 and up population as of Tuesday.

While the governor is encouraging personal liberties with whether or not people choose to wear a mask, President Joe Biden took a more hardline stance. Writing on social media last week after the CDC guidelines changed, Biden said, “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do. The choice is yours.”