Abbott’s move is the latest among similar state bans on local mask mandates, following orders from Republican governors this month in Florida and South Carolina. According to the Florida Department of Education, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ May 3 order does not apply to public schools — just local governments — while South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s May 11 order applies to both schools and local governments. DeSantis’ order also suspended local pandemic restrictions.
Abbott hasn’t shied away from controversial pandemic policies. In early March, he moved before many states to lift statewide Covid restrictions, ending a statewide mask mandate and allowing all businesses to open at full capacity.
At the time, President Joe Biden laid into Abbott and other governors lifting restrictions, saying such moves were “Neanderthal thinking.” Texas ultimately didn’t suffer another Covid surge after Abbott made the dramatic move in March, and like many states, it has seen case rates fall with more vaccinations being administered.
Abbott’s most recent move comes as many states have changed or revisited their masking policies in the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated guidance last week, which said it was safe for fully vaccinated people to go maskless in any type of gathering.
With 60 percent of U.S. adults now having gotten at least one vaccine dose, according to the CDC, many states, including Maryland and Virginia, have lifted their indoor mask mandates, as have retail giants like Walmart and Costco. Others, including New Jersey, have been more cautious, with Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, declining to toss out the state’s indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people, making New Jersey one of the only states to still have one.
Masks have been highly politicized throughout the pandemic, and many Republican lawmakers rebelled over the House’s mask mandate on Tuesday. About a dozen GOP lawmakers refused to mask up on Tuesday evening in spite of potential fines, standing in front of C-SPAN cameras.