Virus Outbreak Texas

To limit the spread of COVID-19, a sign directs travelers to wear masks at Love Field in Dallas on Tuesday.

After Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order reopening the state and removing the mask mandate, Denton County Judge Andy Eads said commissioners will follow suit.

“We are following the governor’s lead on reopening Texas to allow all businesses to operate at 100 percent,” Eads said in a news release. “Twice before, when I had the legal authority to open our local businesses, I immediately opened them that same day.”

The governor’s order, GA-34, will allow businesses to operate at full capacity but implement their own health and safety protocols, such as requiring customers to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. However, it preempts municipalities and counties from adopting ordinances requiring the same.

‘Point the finger’

“The governor has consistently failed to show any real leadership on COVID-19 precautions,” Denton City Council member Jesse Davis said. “I appreciate that he removed occupancy limits and opened businesses further. That seems appropriate in light of improving numbers. But all he did regarding masks was point the finger at local governments, which he has also prohibited from acting in any meaningful way.”

Council member Paul Meltzer agreed.

“This is in direct contradiction to what the director of the CDC said only [Monday], that now is not the time to relax protections,” Meltzer said. “Our numbers are going in the right direction, as they were last year when the governor blundered in the same way at the cost of thousands of lives. I hope people continue to do what has been working and get vaccinated as soon as they can.”

Another council member, Deb Armintor, also took aim at Abbott.

“I’m very angry at the governor for this action,” she said. “His decision to reopen Texas businesses 100%, to discard a statewide mask mandate that was already too weak but is now reduced to nothing, is recklessly irresponsible. His preemption of counties and cities who would want to raise his dangerously low bar is unconscionable.”

Abbott’s order goes into effect on March 10.

‘We have a choice’

“The governor is giving us a choice to return to our perception of normal,” council member Birdia Johnson said. “Ultimately, we will make personal decisions. We have a choice.”

Council member John Ryan said he doesn’t know enough about the order to provide an opinion.

“City staff has not had the opportunity to dig into all the aspects of the governor’s press conference statements since it happened just prior to the start of our meeting,” Ryan said Tuesday.

Abbott’s press conference was at 1:30 p.m. in Lubbock. His office posted the governor’s order immediately.

“People will die, and Abbott will have blood on his hands,” Armintor said. “He is contradicting science and putting private profit before public health once again. It’s critical that the city of Denton continues to uphold safety precautions and not let our guard down as a result of this order.”

Denton residents remain under a disaster declaration and the 10th Order of Council until March 31. The order requires businesses maintain health and safety plans and post signs at entrances and “incorporates the face covering and social distancing requirements of gubernatorial order GA-29.”

But GA-34, as of March 10, would make the city’s order moot.

Neither Mayor Gerard Hudspeth nor council member Connie Baker returned messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Effects on education

In an email to Denton ISD employees, Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the district does not plan to adjust protocol based on the governor’s order.

“Our teachers have yet to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, and they have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, keeping schools open for our students,” he said. “We will look at our protocols based on the announcement and the safety of our students and staff is paramount.”

At Argyle ISD, officials circulated an email to parents saying they are aware of Abbott’s order.

“The district is awaiting additional guidance and information from the Texas Education Agency regarding this decision,” according to the email. “All Argyle ISD campuses and facilities will continue to require face coverings for all students, teachers and staff until further guidance is provided.”

Sanger ISD officials did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“We are aware that … Abbott has issued Executive Order GA-34, which rescinds the mask mandate effective March 10, 2021,” Krum ISD officials posted to the district’s website. “We are exploring what that means to us as a school district and awaiting further guidance from the Texas Education Agency. As we wait for this guidance, we are asking that all staff and students continue to follow our current safety protocols, including wearing masks, as noted in the Krum ISD COVID-19 Health and Hygiene Practices.”

At the University of North Texas, spokesperson Jim Berscheidt said officials there “encourage students to continue to wear masks, so that we can hold our face-to-face classes safely.” He said that no changes to existing protocols are expected.

A spokesperson for Texas Woman’s University, Matt Flores, said officials there are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to talk about the governor’s order. In the meantime, though, the university “has no plans to change its requirements. Members of the university community will still be required to wear masks and follow social distancing protocols on campus that have been in place since 2020.”

North Central Texas College spokesperson Elizabeth Abu said that mask requirements will remain for its campuses and that the institution will “continue to follow” guidelines from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Justin Grass contributed to this report.

PAUL BRYANT can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @paulbryant_DRC.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.