Texas judge allows Austin to keep local mask mandate for now

Shoppers are still required to wear a mask at many stores in Garland, Texas, on Wednesday. On Friday, a Texas judge set a court date to hear Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's lawsuit against Austin and Travis County, which want to keep a mask mandate despite the state lifting it. Photo by Ian Halperin/UPI

March 13 (UPI) — A judge ruled against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday, declining to issue a temporary injunction against the city of Austin and Travis County’s mask mandates.

State District Judge Lora Livingston scheduled a March 26 trial in response to Paxton’s lawsuit earlier in the week.

The state capital and the county where it’s located implemented their own local mask mandates Wednesday after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions, including the mandatory wearing of masks and occupancy restrictions.

Paxton said local jurisdictions must comply with the state law, which says businesses and schools may implement their own measures, but the government won’t enforce any mask mandates.

Livingston said she didn’t want to rush a ruling in the case and wanted to give all sides of the case time to appear in court and present arguments.

“I don’t know why there’s any emergency,” she said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. “People have been wearing masks for a year. I don’t know that two more weeks is going to matter one way or the other.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler applauded Friday’s ruling on Twitter.

“Good news! We learned this morning that Austin’s mask rules will remain in effect for the next two weeks. We return to court March 26. No matter what happens then, we will continue to be guided by doctors and data. Masking works,” he said.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown also praised the ruling, and County Attorney Delia Garza “for fighting to keep our community safe.”

Wearing a mask is one of the key mitigation efforts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pushed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, which primarily infects people through the inhalation of contaminated aerosols produced by a person coughing.

In February, the agency said wearing two masks — a cloth face covering over a medical or surgical mask, increases that protection by more than 90%.

“Until vaccine-induced population immunity is achieved, universal masking is a highly effective means to slow the spread of [the virus] … [and] the data in this report underscore the finding that good fit can increase overall mask efficiency,” CDC researchers wrote.

Abbott cited declining rates of new cases and hospitalizations, and a rapid distribution of vaccines, as reasons for the lifting of the mask mandate. At the time of his announcement — March 2 — cases had been on the rise since mid-February, but had seen a larger overall decline since a peak in mid-January.

On Thursday, the state had a rolling seven-day average of 4,710 daily cases, down from a peak of about 23,000 on Jan. 16, according to The New York Times. Over the past 14 days, there’s been a 35% decline in new cases, 21% decline in deaths and 32% decline in hospitalizations.

The state has reported 2.7 million cases and 46,205 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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