Special to the News-Times
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order prohibiting governmental entities in Texas — including counties, cities, school districts, public health authorities, or government officials — from requiring or mandating mask wearing.
Public schools may continue to follow current mask-wearing guidelines through 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, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
However, in San Jacinto County, the governor’s action will have no effect, as both the Coldspring-Oakhurst and Shepherd districts had already voted to remove masks.
Shepherd Superintendent Jason Hewitt said that in April, the board voted to remove masks after a survey of the staff and community showed masks should be removed.
Cassie Gregory, information officer for COCISD, said that board had made masks optional previously.
Beginning May 21, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or impose a limitation inconsistent or conflicting with the executive order can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
"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. "Texans, not 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."
Exempt from the 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.
Additionally, the governor said that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment compensation related to the COVID-19 pandemic, effective June 26.
This includes the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, a release states.
“The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Abbott said. “According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment benefits. That assessment does not include the voluminous jobs that typically are not listed, like construction and restaurant jobs. In fact, there are nearly 60 percent more jobs open (and listed) in Texas today than there was in February 2020, the month before the Pandemic hit Texas.”
The current job openings are good paying jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, nearly 45 percent of posted jobs offer wages greater than $15.50 per hour. Approximately 76 percent pay more than $11.50 per hour. Only 2 percent of posted jobs pay around the minimum wage.
At this stage of opening the state 100 percent, the focus must be on helping unemployed Texans connect with the more than a million job openings, rather than paying unemployment benefits to remain off the employment rolls.
Another reason why the action was necessary is the high level of fraudulent unemployment claims being filed. TWC estimates that nearly 18 percent of all claims for unemployment benefits during the pandemic are confirmed or suspected to be fraudulent, which totals more than 800,000 claims, worth as much as $10.4 billion, if all claims had been paid.
Federal law requires the effective date of this change to be at least 30 days after notification is provided to the Secretary of Labor. As a result, the effective date will be June 26.