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Texas Gov. Abbott threatens to fine cities and local officials if they impose mask mandates

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed an executive order that bans government entities in the state from requiring face masks and fines those who do.

Under the Republican governor’s order, which goes into effect Friday, local governments or officials that implement mandatory masks can be fined up to $1,000.

“Anybody can wear a mask if they want to. It’s just that it’s a decision to be made by Texans, not to be forced by government,” Abbott said in an interview on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

CNBC Health & Science

Schools are subject to a slightly different timeline under Abbott’s order Tuesday, which builds off his decision in early March to eliminate the state’s mask requirement and lift business capacity restrictions.

According to Abbott’s latest order, public schools in Texas can keep their current mask policies in place through June 4. Following that date, however, face-covering requirements are prohibited for teachers, staff and students, as well as other visitors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising schools to keep coronavirus mitigation measures, including face masks, in place for the rest of the academic year. Covid vaccine eligibility was recently expanded for children ages 12 to 15. So far, more than half a million kids in that age group have received a shot.

Abbott’s action Tuesday follows the CDC’s newly issued guidance last week. The public health agency said fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear face masks in most settings both indoors and outdoors.

While local rules take precedent over the CDC’s guidance, the change in recommendations still prompted a number of states and major retailers to relax their existing mask policies for vaccinated people.

Some states, such as California, have not modified their approach in light of the CDC’s decision, which was criticized by some public health experts as being confusing and potentially premature.

Others have applauded the CDC guidance, saying that at this stage in the pandemic — with new Covid infections falling and vaccinations rising — it makes sense.

Nearly 48% of the U.S. population has received at least one Covid vaccine dose and 37.5% are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the CDC.

As vaccinations reach more Americans, the number of daily new infections has continued to fall. Based on a seven-day average, the country is reporting roughly 32,000 new coronavirus cases per day. That’s according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. It’s the lowest figure since late June.

The seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases in Texas is 2,040, which is down almost 9% from a week ago, according to CNBC’s analysis.

In March, Abbott’s decision to dramatically roll back coronavirus restrictions received significant criticism from President Joe Biden and health officials. Abbott told CNBC his strategy has proven effective.

“The Covid situation in Texas is such that we can and should be open 100%,” Abbott said. “We can eliminate government-required masks, but we always encourage people to make their own choice for themselves and for their own safety.”

Some entities are excluded from the governor’s order Tuesday, such as hospitals that are owned or operated by the government, as well as facilities run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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