Judge Backs Austin After Texas AG Sues To Block City's Mask Mandate

The city's mayor hails ruling protecting citizens' health after Gov. Greg Abbott dropped almost all COVID-19 safety precautions weeks ago.

A judge has blocked a move by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to rescind a mask mandate in the city of Austin and the surrounding county.

Travis County District Court Judge Lora Livingston on Friday denied Paxton’s demand for a temporary injunction against Austin and Travis County’s orders that require masks in public spaces.

Paxton argued that local jurisdictions couldn’t contradict Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision early this month dropping almost all COVID-19 safety precautions, including a mask mandate, against the advice of health experts. Abbott also allowed bars, restaurants, and other businesses to serve customers at 100% capacity.

Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott testified in court Friday that the downward trend in Texas COVID-19 cases was beginning to level out, The Texas Tribune reported.

“It’s clear that we haven’t beaten COVID-19 yet,” Escott said. “And it’s clear that if we are able to maintain those protections that it’s going to buy us time to get more people vaccinated, and ultimately, it’s going to save lives.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler hailed the judge’s decision, though she hasn’t yet made a final ruling about the mask mandate.

“For however long the city’s mask mandate is in effect, our community is more safe because the message is clear that masking works and is effective,” Adler said in a statement. The court’s delayed ruling, keeping the mandate in force “during this past spring break has been a victory for doctors and data over politics.”

He added: “We will continue to follow the doctors and the data that urge individuals and businesses alike to continue to mask until everyone is vaccinated, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Adler said Abbott’s decision to remove the mask mandate “puts politics over people, rhetoric over the effort to further open, and keep open, schools and businesses.”

Texas has reported more than 2.7 million confirmed cases and climbing of COVID-19, and very close to 48,000 deaths. Just 12% of Texans have been fully vaccinated against the virus. The Austin COVID-19 mortality rate is less than half of the state’s average, according to Adler.