Texas governor bars mask mandates for schools, other government entities

FILE PHOTO: Texas Governor Greg Abbott pictured in 2020
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(Reuters) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday ordered all government entities in the state, including school districts, to lift mask mandates by week's end, though existing guidelines for face-coverings in schools may remain in effect through June 4.

Abbott's executive order puts Texas at odds with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending that students in schools across the United States wear masks for the 2020-2021 academic year because not all will be inoculated against the coronavirus.

Abbott said Texas was making strides against the COVID-19 pandemic through vaccinations, antibody therapeutics and voluntary health-safety practices "utilized by Texans in our communities," leaving government mask requirements no longer necessary.

"We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans' liberty to choose whether or not they mask up," he said in a statement announcing the executive order.

Abbott and many other Republican politicians have cast mask mandates as an imposition on personal freedoms but nevertheless grudgingly required face coverings at the height of the pandemic as hospitalizations and deaths surged out of control.

Texas lifted its state-imposed mask mandate 10 weeks ago but sued officials in Austin, the state's capital city, for refusing to go along with the lifting of those restrictions.

Abbott said that beginning Friday, local governments or officials that attempt to impose a mask mandate or other restriction in defiance of his latest executive order barring compulsory face-coverings would be subject to a $1,000 fine.

Public school districts are given more time to comply, but after June 4, "no student, teacher, parent or other staff member of visitor can be required to wear a mask while on campus," his announcement said.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio)

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