Abbott issued the order Thursday, two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended indoor mask mandates, regardless of vaccination status, in places with at least 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people over the previous seven days.
"To further ensure that no governmental entity can mandate masks, the following requirement shall continue to apply: No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no governmental official may require any person to wear a face-covering or to mandate that other person wear a covering," the executive order read.
Abbott defended the move in a statement, arguing, "Today’s executive order will provide clarity and uniformity in the Lone Star State’s continued fight against COVID-19."
The Republican governor went on to reiterate his argument that "the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates."
In making the recommendation, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said data indicates that vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant to unvaccinated people more easily than other strains of COVID-19.
The variant, which first emerged in India in December, now accounts for around 83 percent of cases nationwide, according to the CDC.
However, critics have questioned that assertion, and former Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir suggested Thursday that the CDC’s data is "weak."
"Dr. Walensky said in rare circumstances, a vaccinated person may transmit. Well, if it’s 1 percent, 0.1 percent, 0.01 percent, there’s no reason for the mask recommendations, but we don’t know because they won’t tell us," he told Fox News in an interview.
The chances of becoming seriously ill or dying from a "breakthrough infection" of the Delta strain is also extremely low if a person is fully vaccinated.
Out of 161 million US residents who were fully vaccinated as of July 19, just 5,601 caught a severe breakthrough infection and were hospitalized — an infinitesimal 0.0035 percent of the protected population, according to the latest CDC figures available on post-vaccination infections.
When it comes to deaths, the risk is even lower, with just 1,141 vaccinated people dying from a COVID-19 breakthrough infection — or 0.0007 percent of those fully jabbed.
But in defending the decision to reinstate mask mandates, Walensky said Thursday that while vaccines are highly effective against serious illness, the new guidance helps protect more vulnerable individuals and children who are too young to get immunized.
The agency said in its new guidance that it was also urging everyone in K-12 schools to wear a mask when they return to class, regardless of vaccination status.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also defended the CDC’s new guidance, saying Tuesday the agency was responding to "evolving information" about the pandemic.
"The reality is, we’re dealing with a much different strain of this virus than we were even earlier in the spring back in May when the masking guidance was done," Psaki said at her daily press briefing.