A judge ruled Austin can continue to enforce mask mandate after the Texas attorney general sued to stop it

austin texas covid
A COVID-19 restriction signs hang outside of Chipotle on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

  • A judge in Texas said Austin officials can continue to enforce the city’s mask mandate.
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested a temporary injunction against the order.
  • While the judge denied the injunction, she hasn’t made a final ruling on the case.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A judge in Texas on Friday ruled that the city of Austin and the county that encompasses it could continue to enforce its mask mandate after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued to stop the order.

Travis County District Court Judge Lora Livingston on Friday denied the Texas attorney general’s request to issue a temporary injunction against the Travis County and city of Austin orders that require masks in public spaces, the Courthouse News Service first reported.

“For however long the City’s Mask Mandate is in effect, our community is more safe because the message is clear that masking works and is effective,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a statement following the ruling. “Just the court’s delayed ruling, being in force during this past spring break, has been a victory for doctors and data over politics.

“Abbott’s decision to remove the mask mandate puts politics over people, rhetoric over the effort to further open, and keep open, schools and businesses,” he continued.

Abbott on March 10 ended the state’s mask order, despite warnings from public health experts that such decisions were premature amid the rollout of vaccines and the spread of mutated variants of the disease. Abbott also this month relaxed capacity limits on businesses, allowing bars, restaurants, and other businesses to serve customers at 100% capacity.

Read more: How live music venues, theaters, and talent managers can get up to $10 million of $15 billion in COVID relief grants – with no requirement to pay it back

Part of Abbott’s order stated “no jurisdiction” could impose its own mask mandate unless they met a threshold determined by hospitalizations related to COVID-19, according to a report from The Texas Tribune.

But Travis County and the city of Austin continued to place restrictions on businesses in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including a mask mandate that was extended until April 15. Paxton sued Travis County and the city of Austin, arguing they were unable to propose mandates of their own because they conflicted with his order that lifted the mandate and allowed businesses to operate at full capacity.

“It’s clear we haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet,” said Mark Escott, the acting health authority for Austin and Travis County,” noting the city was still seeing around 100 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed each day. “And it’s clear that if we are able to maintain those protections it’s going to buy us time to get more people vaccinated. And ultimately it’s going to save lives.”

Lawyers for the state have argued that cities and counties were unable to impose their own restrictions because they conflicted with his statewide mandates issued under the Texas Disaster Act, though the judge has expressed doubts about the notion.

“He could…say because he’s declared a disaster you must not wear red on Tuesdays and you may not wear red on Thursday, that is an order the governor could put in place, and we couldn’t do anything about it because under the Texas Disaster Act he has unlimited power,” Livingston asked lawyers for the state, according to Courthouse News Service. “Is that the position your taking?”

Paxton is likely to appeal the decision, the Texas Tribune reported. Livingston has not made a final ruling in the case, meaning the mask orders by Austin and Travis County officials could eventually be blocked by the state.

According to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University, Texas has reported more than 2.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, which has resulted in more than 47,000 deaths. At present, just 12% of the Texas population is fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the Hopkins data.

Paxton previously sued Austin and Travis County over a local ordinance that created a curfew during the New Year’s holiday weekend last year. While Paxton won that suit, the ruling came after the holiday, meaning it had been already been enforced.

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