On March 26, a judge ruled in favor of Austin and Travis County maintaining a mask mandate and social distancing requirements for area businesses
The mask and social distancing requirements, reinstated by the city of Austin and Travis County a day before Gov. Greg Abbott abruptly lifted restrictions on capacity caps and masking requirements across Texas on March 10. Almost immediately, those local rules faced a legal challenge by Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton.
During the hearing in the 261st Civil District Court, on Friday, March 26, Travis County Judge Lora Livingston ruled in favor of the city and county, and against Paxton. Austin and Travis County’s mask and social distancing mandates remain in place, Travis County Judge Andy Brown tweeted.
The hearing was supposed to take place two weeks ago right after Paxton filed the suit, but it had been delayed. It is safe to presume that he will appeal the decision.
The mask and distancing order was issued by Interim Medical Director and Health Authority for Austin Public Health Dr. Mark Escott, instead of Austin and Travis County officials, which makes it legal despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandates lifting all coronavirus restrictions.
As a result of the court decision, people in Austin and Travis County are still legally required to wear masks (except when actually seated at restaurants and bars for eating and drinking purposes, among other exceptions), groups are limited to ten people, groups are required to maintain six feet of distance, or if seated and there is a physical barrier, four feet.
“We have seen that masking is perhaps the most important of public health mitigation strategies for COVID-19,” Dr. Escott says in a press release. “It’s clear we haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet. If we can maintain protections it will enable us to get more people vaccinated and ultimately it’s going to save lives.”
Violations of these orders are considered Class C misdemeanors, which entail fines, but how exactly these are being enforced is still unclear. These rules run through Tuesday, May 18.
Update, Tuesday, April 13, 2:36 p.m.: This article, originally published on March 26, has been updated to include new end date of Travis County’s mask and social distancing orders.