Several Texas college campuses to keep mask mandates after governor’s order

Graduates at a Texas A&M University commencement ceremony at Reed Arena in College Station, TX on Dec 17, 2020. (Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune)

Several Texas colleges and universities will still require people to wear face masks after Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he will lift the statewide mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions starting Wednesday.

Those institutions’ decisions come as COVID-19 continues to spread across the state and Houston became the first city to record cases of all major COVID-19 strains. As of March 3, only 7.5% of Texans have been fully vaccinated- far below the recommended threshold for rolling back safety restrictions. Local leaders criticized Abbott’s decision, saying the move came too early and will cost peoples’ lives.

Austin Community College, Baylor University, Paris Junior College, Rice University, Southern Methodist University, Southwestern University, the Texas A&M University System, Trinity University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at El Paso are keeping their current COVID-19 guidelines — which include mask mandates — in place. Each of the 11 Texas A&M System schools will determine based on local conditions what the guidance will be after the spring semester. Other universities have not yet released updated guidance in response to Abbott’s announcement, but several schools, including the University of Houston, UT-San Antonio, Texas Tech University and Lamar University have said they are reviewing the order to determine the next steps.

UT President Jay Hartzell said in a message to the UT community that keeping the mask mandate in place for the university is in accordance with guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

"We have been safely delivering on our teaching and research missions so far this year, and our protocols have been working," Hartzell said in the message.

John Sharp, Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System, said in a statement that the system anticipates guidance will be lifted at the end of the spring semester, but system members should continue to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines that are already in place, including masking and physical distancing.

Disclosure: Baylor University, Lamar University, Rice University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at El Paso and University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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