Mask Orders & Requirements are no longer mandated by local governments, with some exceptions. However, employers can still require masks from their employees and customers. This morning, The Wall Street Journal reported that some of the largest retail, theater, hotel and restaurant chains in the United States operating in Texas announced that they will continue to require the use of masks. It may be more difficult for companies to justify mask requirements to customers in the absence of government bans, but many companies will continue to require masks anyway.
Private companies remain free to demand masks, but state law prohibits them from requiring proof of vaccination. Cruise lines operating out of Galveston require documentation of vaccinations from passengers, saying they are exempt from that rule. El Paso County and Dallas County have both challenged the governor's order and issued an indoor mask requirement for businesses that goes into effect early Wednesday morning, just after midnight. Austin Mayor Steve Adler has urged City Manager Spencer Cronk to enforce a vaccination requirement for city employees. The Texas Supreme Court ruled to temporarily allow Abbott's ban on mask mandates to be maintained, but Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says his order for schools and businesses to require masks indoors is still in effect.
The Dallas Independent School District requires all staff and students to wear masks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is likely to issue a temporary emergency rule in the next two weeks that requires the use of masks in certain contexts. This confusing situation involves disputes over Texas law, the effectiveness of mask mandates, the appropriateness of requiring vaccines that have only been provisionally approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the conflict between Abbott's preferences and federal guidelines, and the meaning of freedom. A Williamson County judge also requires visitors and employees entering the Williamson County Justice Center to wear masks, as the county recently entered its red COVID-19 risk level. Bell County Judge David Blackburn provided guidance for businesses and local governments on March 2nd. While waiting in line in the parking lot at NRG Stadium in Houston to receive his first COVID injection, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that, starting March 10th, there would no longer be COVID-19 operating limits for Texas businesses.
Several recent executive orders allow companies and other private establishments to continue to require masks as a matter of trade policy for customers and employees. The Texas Supreme Court seems to be inclined to side with Abbott in this dispute over legal interpretation. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Travis and Austin County officials in March for imposing a local mask mandate despite Abbott's order banning such requirements at the time. One argument against it is that COVID-19, which rarely causes life-threatening symptoms in children and adolescents, poses a less serious danger to them than other diseases for which vaccination is required. Business owners will be able to decide for themselves if they are going to serve customers who do not wear masks.