Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a new executive order (EO) Thursday aimed at preventing local government entities and officials in the state from imposing mask mandates or compelling vaccination.
Local governments and officials will not be permitted to mandate mask-wearing and doing so will be considered “failure to comply with” the EO and be subject to a possible fine of up to $1,000.
The Republican governor’s new order also prohibits public and private entities from seeking proof of vaccination as a condition for entry if those entities are receiving or will receive public funds.
Abbott’s EO says no government agencies can compel anyone to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, though the vaccine is “strongly encouraged for those eligible to receive one.”
There are some exceptions in the order, however. Texas hospitals, jails and assisted living centers “may continue to use appropriate policies regarding the wearing of face coverings.”
Nursing homes and assisted living centers will still be able to “require documentation of a resident’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine.”
The order makes clear that entities receiving any kind of state funding will be prohibited from asking customers for evidence of their vaccine status.
“Any public or private entity that is receiving or will receive public funds through any means, including grants, contracts, loans, or other disbursements of taxpayer money, shall not require a consumer to provide, as a condition of receiving any service or entering any place, documentation regarding the consumer’s vaccination status for any COVID-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization,” the order says.
The order encourages people to take precautions such as mask-wearing in “areas where the COVID-19 transmission rate is high” but adds “no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering.”
Abbott’s EO also places emphasis on business, saying there are “no COVID-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment” as part of an effort to “ensure the ability of Texans to preserve livelihoods while protecting lives.”
Any local government entities or officials imposing restrictions in violation of the order may also be subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
The governor issued a statement on Thursday along with the EO, focusing on “personal responsibility.”
“The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott’s statement said.
“Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities.
“Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary—never forced—in the State of Texas,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s order comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas. On Wednesday, the state recorded the most cases in a single day since February, according to analysis from The Houston Chronicle. The percentage of Texas’ population over the age of 12 who has received at least one dose of vaccine as of Thursday stands at 61.3.
Newsweek has asked Governor Greg Abbott’s office for comment.