As of midnight on Thursday, June 18, masks are now required in all Austin businesses. Mayor Steve Adler issued the order yesterday after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott okayed a similar one from Bexar County.
Beginning now through August 5, Austin businesses — including all retail stores and restaurants — must require all patrons and employees to wear a cloth face covering.
"All commercial entities in the City of Austin providing goods or services directly to the public must develop and implement a health and safety policy or plan related to COVID-19. The health and safety policy or plan must require, at a minimum, that all employees and visitors wear face coverings while on the commercial entity's business premises or other facilities," says Adler's order.
The exceptions to this rule are if you are alone; if you are with members of your own family/household; if you are exercising outdoors at least six feet from other people; or if wearing a mask poses a greater mental or physical health, safety, or security.
Masks have been a contentious issue since early May, when the Texas Attorney General’s Office issued a letter to cities across the state — including Austin — claiming that cities and counties can’t impose civil or criminal penalties for failing to wear a mask in public. (At that point, the city and Travis County had required masks in public; the state suggested masks, but did not require them.)
On June 17, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued an order that San Antonio businesses must require masks. In a turn, Abbott said he would not interfere with Wolff's order, thus paving the way for cities like Austin to enact similar rules.
Studies continue to show that face masks are among the best tools for stopping the spread of COVID-19. In a recent study from Texas A&M, researchers found that 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City.
"We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission," said Renyi Zhang, a Texas A&M Distinguished Professor and one of the co-authors of the study.
Austin's new mask orders comes as COVID-19 cases continue to spike across the state. In the Capital City region, nearly 5,000 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus resulting in 108 deaths.