BELL COUNTY, Texas — On March 2, 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34, which states "no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering." It also removes operating limits on local businesses, allowing them to go back to full capacity. The order goes into effect on March 10.
The order also states, "individuals are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth whenever it is not feasible to maintain social distancing..."
So does this mean masks will not longer be required anywhere? Not exactly. Bell County Judge David Blackburn provided the following guidance for businesses and local governments.
Masking at local government buildings: Not required
Executive Order GA-34 states "no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering." Blackburn said that means masks cannot be required at government offices.
"The county is a political arm of the state," Blackburn said. "It seemed clear to me in the order and in his comments, the county will not be requiring face coverings on county facilities."
Blackburn said the county will still put up signs encouraging masking. Waco Mayor Dillon Meek told 6 News, "The city legal department is reviewing Gov. Abbott's executive order and, specifically, the scope of pre-emption on city and county ordinances."
Masking at local businesses: Possibly required
Business owners will be able to decide for themselves whether they will serve customers who are not wearing masks. Some businesses have chosen to drop the mask requirement for customers, others have not. Blackburn told 6 News this is consistent with other reasons to refuse service. He said many businesses had been calling and asking for advice.
"My read of his orders was that each business gets to make it's own individual decision," Blackburn said. "It's kind of like the 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' signs. They could put that kind of sign up if they chose to do so."
Masking at hospitals and clinics: Probably required
Baylor Scott and White and Seton Medical Center have both told 6 News masking would be required at local facilities.
"Seton Medical Center Harker Heights will continue the policy of universal masking in all facilities to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The governor’s announcement rescinding the statewide mask mandate next week will not change our masking policy at this time. While we respect the governor’s position, we believe masking continues to be necessary for the safety of our patients, staff, and visitors," Seton Spokeswoman Lucy Taylor stated via email.
Baylor Scott and White Internal Medicine Specialist Tresa McNeal told 6 News the hospital system hoped people would continue to wear masks and face coverings any time they were in public to prevent another spike in cases. She said the people affected may be closer than the public would think.
"Use our own personal choices and make the right decision for the neighbors around us. The family members around us," McNeal said. "COVID-19 puts a significant strain on the healthcare system and we want to be able to serve people that have normal and COVID-related needs as well. Please wear your masks and be thoughtful about that.
School districts will be allowed to set their own masking policies according to an announcement by the TEA.