The Texas Supreme Court has blocked mask mandates issued by two of the state’s most populous counties. The counties defied Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s order banning mask mandates.
School districts in Bexar and Dallas counties issued mask orders after a lower court in Texas ruled in favor of local guidance as cases of Covid-19 surge in areas including Dallas.
School districts in Tarrant and Harris counties have also defied Gov. Abbott’s executive order as Texas students get ready to return to classrooms.
The state attorney general’s office said in a statement that, “Local mask mandates are illegal.” Abbott himself has tested positive for COVID-19, though he is fully vaccinated.
The orders are temporarily pending a hearing in court. The AG office’s statement also said that the order should “serve as a reminder” to all local and school district officials that the governor’s order “stands.”
The Texas Supreme Court is comprised of elected Republican justices. The ruling by the high court appears to halt the mask requirements that leaders in San Antonio and Dallas put in place as students return to school and new Covid-19 infections soar.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who issued the mask mandate tweeted:
“We won’t stop working with parents, doctors, schools, business + others.” Officials in San Antonio, located in Bexar County, said that mask mandates at city buildings and schools remain in effect as officials continue to defend the mandate in court.
Researchers and health authorities have argued that masks are effective at preventing the spread of Covid-19.
Abbott said that his executive order prohibiting mask mandates allows Texans to rely on “personal responsibility rather than government mandates.”
Confusion as students return
The legal battle over whether local governments can issue face mask mandates is ongoing.
Hours after health authorities ordered all public schools in Corpus Christi and Nueces County to require face masks indoors, County Judge Barbara Canales announced that the order would not be enforced due to the Texas Supreme Court’s temporary ruling orders in Dallas and Bexar counties.
According to Judge Canales, local officials would “respect the Supreme Court ruling” and wait for the final court ruling.
“In the meantime, Public Health and I are asking students to be smart — practice social distancing where possible, wash your hands — and please voluntarily wear your masks while in close quarters and indoors with others. We have beat Covid-19 once. Let’s work together to beat the Delta variant,” Canales said.
In Austin and Houston, public school districts and officials also have imposed mask mandates, despite Abbott’s order prohibiting local governments from reverting to pandemic restrictions.
According to White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients, Florida and Texas account for almost 40% of new virus hospitalizations.
Nationwide, the Covid-19 death toll has begun soaring again as the Delta variant takes hold and tears through the country’s unvaccinated population, filling hospitals with patients.