By Gaige Davila
By this weekend, local governments cannot require face mask wearing within their buildings, according to a new executive order by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Issued on May 18, the order is going into effect on Friday, May 21.
“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,” Abbott said in a press release. “Texans, not the government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”
The executive order comes a week after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people do not have to wear masks outdoors and inside places that do not require masks being worn.
Several businesses on South Padre Island and Port Isabel have removed their mask requirements already, after Abbott rescinded a statewide mask mandate on March 2 this year. Businesses could choose whether or not to require masks inside, with many opting to continue to require them for employees and customers.
“We only have a third of the (state) population that’s vaccinated, it’s kind of hard to relax (face mask) restrictions when you don’t know who’s been vaccinated and who hasn’t,” Port Isabel City Manager Jared Hockema told the PRESS.
Hockema said the city will continue encouraging residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19, continue to use face masks, sanitize and socially distance. Hand sanitizer stations placed around the city, temperature monitors, air filters and masks available for public use will remain.
Several thousand Laguna Madre residents have been vaccinated in the Laguna Madre area, whether through the cities’ vaccine clinics, at Walgreens, or at Cameron County vaccine clinics. In Cameron County, 50.14% of people who are 12-years-old and older have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, as of May 18.
That leaves half of Cameron County unvaccinated. In Texas, just under 40% of residents have been vaccinated.
“The problem is your younger people: a lot of them are not vaccinated,” Hockema said. “As of now, we’re barely able to vaccinate the teens with (the) Pfizer (vaccine). In our area, we have a huge young population. There’s a substantial, substantial number of people that have not been vaccinated in this county.”
At Point Isabel ISD, 240 students have been vaccinated across its four campuses, all of which are 12-years-old and older. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not given clearance to administer vaccines to people younger than 12-years-old.
Public schools can require mask-wearing guidelines until June 4. After June 4, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus, a press release from the Governor’s office stated.
Point Isabel ISD will continue to require masks up until June 4, then they will transition away from using masks once summer school begins. However, anyone within the district who chooses to wear a face mask can do so, and PI-ISD will recommend they be worn on campuses.
“(The deadline) will provide the district with additional time to safely execute this next phase,” PI-ISD Superintendent Theresa Capistran told the PRESS. “Our district will continue following all of our safety protocols that were implemented this year. Most of them are just good, safe and healthy protocols that were put in place because of this pandemic. But as a result of this, we now have so many additional safety supports in place that we want to continue.”
Those protocols include keeping the handwashing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers in campus hallways.
“The Governor has access to far more experts dealing with and understanding COVID-19, therefore I am sure that he issued the order with the guidance that a mask in municipal buildings is not needed,” South Padre Island Mayor Patrick McNulty told the PRESS.
Laguna Vista Mayor Nadine Smith also said the town will respect the order.
The only exemptions from the executive order are state-supported living centers, government-owned or operated hospitals, Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities, Texas Juvenile Justice Department facilities, and county and municipal jails.
Want the whole story? Pick up a copy of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.