Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order Prohibiting Government Entities and Officials From Mandating Face Coverings or Restricting Activities Due to COVID-19

May 19, 2021 | Insights



As companies of all types and sizes continue to deal with the potential legal implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for their businesses, Jackson Walker provides insights and resources on the COVID-19 Legal Resources & Insights site.

By Amanda Crouch

On May 18, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-36 prohibiting governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or restricting activities in response to the COVID-19 disaster.

Effective immediately, GA-36 prohibits all governmental entities and officials on a statewide basis, including counties, cities, and public health authorities, from requiring any person to wear a face covering. The imposition of any face covering requirement by a local governmental entity or official is subject to a fine up to $1,000 beginning at 11:59 p.m. on May 21, 2021. Included in GA-36 is a suspension of the portions of the Texas Government Code and Texas Health and Safety Code that local officials have previously invoked to support face-covering requirements within their jurisdictions.

The order provides two express exceptions from the face covering mandate prohibition:

  1. state-supported living centers as well as government owned and operated hospitals; and
  2. the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, and any county or municipal jails acting consistent with guidance by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Public schools may continue to follow policies regarding face coverings as reflected in Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) current guidance until June 4, 2021. GA-36 requires the TEA to revise its guidance such that, effective 11:59 p.m. on June 4, 2021, no student, teacher, parent, or other staff member or visitor may be required to wear a face covering while at a public school.

In addition to prohibiting face covering requirements, GA-36 allows business activities and legal proceedings to proceed without COVID-19-related limitations imposed by local governmental entities or officials in all counties not in an area of high hospitalizations. GA-36 supersedes any conflicting local order in response to the COVID-19 disaster and imposes a $1,000 fine beginning at 11:59 p.m. on May 21, 2021, for the imposition of any conflicting or inconsistent limitation by a local governmental entity or official.

GA-36 supersedes subparagraph numbers 1(b) (encouraging masking, but prohibiting governmental mask mandates in areas without high hospitalization) and 2(c)(iii) (permitting enforcing trespassing laws and removing face covering violators at the request of a business establishment or property owner) of GA-34, but does not otherwise supersede GA-10 (requiring daily COVID-19 reporting to DSHS), GA-13 (relating to detention in county and municipal jails during COVID-19 disaster), GA-34 (reopening Texas in non-high hospitalization areas) or GA-35 (prohibiting governmental entities to compel COVID-19 vaccines). The order shall remain in effect and full force until it is modified, amended, rescinded or superseded by the governor.

Hours before Governor Abbott issued GA-36, Austin Public Health officials had lifted mask mandates on businesses for fully vaccinated customers if fewer than 500 individuals are in a business at once. The new Austin rules are being evaluated to determine if they must change in light of GA-36, but have not been updated as of the time of publication. The Texas Supreme Court has previously issued orders modifying certain court procedures and has not yet weighed in on GA-36.

For more information and continued coverage of COVID-19 related orders, visit JW.com/Coronavirus.

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Please note: This article and any resources presented on the JW Coronavirus Insights & Resources site are for informational purposes only, do not constitute legal or medical advice, and are not a substitute for legal advice from qualified counsel. The laws of other states and nations may be entirely different from what is described. Your use of these materials does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Jackson Walker. The facts and results of each case will vary, and no particular result can be guaranteed.


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Amanda N. Crouch
Associate, San Antonio

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