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Austin/Travis County require businesses to post whether they require masks, Covid-19 tests or vaccinations

Friday, January 14, 2022 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Starting Monday, businesses in Travis County and the city of Austin will have to post a sign indicating whether employees and customers need to wear a mask, show a negative Covid-19 test or be vaccinated against the virus.

City of Austin/Travis County. A template of the notice Austin and Travis County are asking businesses to post on their entryways.

Business owners are also required to post a sign saying local health officials recommend people wear masks and get vaccinated against the virus.

“We are enabling businesses to better protect public health and to make sure they have enough healthy workers to stay open,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a press release.

Local officials issued the new order Thursday, citing the historic swell in the number of Covid-19 cases in the area fueled by the omicron variant. On average, about 900 people a day are testing positive in Travis County and area hospitals are admitting about 100 people a day with the virus.

Last week, the city and county announced they would move to the highest stage of the Covid-19 risk guidance. In Stage 5, people who are fully vaccinated and boosted should wear masks when away from home. Unvaccinated people, and those who still need a booster shot, should avoid gatherings and traveling and get fully vaccinated as soon as possible.

While businesses in violation of the new orders face fines of up to $1,000, Austin-Travis County are not going as far as forcing businesses to require masks, negative tests or vaccination cards for employees and customers. Orders Gov. Greg Abbott issued last year prohibit such moves.

Adler said another reason he wanted to issue the order is to make clear to businesses that they have the right to require precautions like masking and vaccinations.

“All this does is make sure that businesses know that they have the authority to decide that question for themselves,” Adler told KUT. “We’re doing this in response to confusion.”

A spokesperson for Abbott’s office told KUT that Abbott’s previous orders, which prohibit businesses from having mask or vaccine mandates, preempt any power a local government gives to businesses to require such precautions.

“Any business would be within its legal rights to ignore this municipal order,” Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in an emailed statement. “Gov. Abbott has been clear that the time for mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated.”

Adler told KUT he believes Austin and Travis County have the authority to enforce a mandate after a ruling last week from an appeals court confirmed Harris County’s authority to mandate masks. A panel of judges upheld a lower court’s ruling that stated Abbott went beyond his authority by prohibiting local governments from requiring masks.

“I don’t know whether or not this will get challenged,” Adler told KUT.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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