Local Texas Leaders Defy Governor Over Mask Mandates

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U.S.|The Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates has been dealt twin legal setbacks.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/10/us/texas-delta-abbott-mask-mandate.html

Construction workers set up tents outside of Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston on Aug. 9. Hospital officials plan to use the tents to handle an overflow of Covid patients as cases surge in Texas.
Credit...Godofredo A. Vásquez/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

Azi Paybarah

  • Aug. 10, 2021Updated 11:23 p.m. ET

Local leaders in open rebellion against Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates won a pair of court victories on Tuesday that cleared the way for them to at least temporarily require the face coverings they say are needed to combat the Delta variant that is driving skyrocketing cases in the state.

The first setback came in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio. Masks can be mandated in public schools and other public buildings there for now after a Texas judge ruled in favor of San Antonio and Bexar county officials who sued over Governor Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban.

Masks will also be mandated for county and city employees, according to Andy Segobia, city attorney for the City of San Antonio. The chief executive of Bexar County, Judge Nelson W. Wolf, said the ruling was important because many students are too young to get vaccinated and “are coming back to school with no protection.”

The second blow was delivered by a district judge in Dallas County who ruled that Governor Abbott’s order improperly prevented local officials from protecting residents during an emergency. “Dallas County citizens will be irreparably harmed” if local leaders can’t require “face covering and mask mandates to stop the transmission of Covid-19,” the judge, Tonya Parker, wrote in the ruling, referring to the head of the county chief executive, Clay Jenkins.In light of the ruling, Judge Jenkins said he plans to issue an emergency order for the county tomorrow.

On Monday, Texas recorded the second highest daily average of new coronavirus cases in the country, with 12,414, according to a New York Times database. That figure is about twice as high as it was in late July.

Now, hospitals in Texas are nearing capacity and some are bracing for an influx of even more patients. In Houston, the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital is at 100 percent capacity in its intensive care units, with 63 percent Covid cases, CNN reported. The hospital erected tents to deal with a possible influx of patients.

Surges in other parts of the country have touched off a renewed effort to curb the spread of the virus, with legal and political jousting over new restrictions.

Local leaders in Florida, which is hit with its worst wave of the pandemic, are also defying the governor’s ban on mask mandates there. Gov. Ron DeSantis is threatening to withhold the salaries of local superintendents and school board members who enact them.

In Arkansas, where cases are rising, the Republican governor Asa Hutchinson said this weekend that he regrettied blocking in April a mask mandate in his state.

On Monday, Arkansas officials said the state had only eight intensive care unit beds available. On Tuesday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in the 19 counties that make up the North Texas region, there were only two pediatric ICU beds.

Governor Abbott signed a mask mandate ban in May. But unlike his counterpart in Arkansas, he is sticking with his ban, even as local officials are defying it.

On Monday, the superintendent of public schools in Austin, Stephanie S. Elizalde, announced that face masks would be required for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 17.

Also on Monday, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of a resolution seeking a mask mandate in their district.

But Governor Abbott’s office is doubling down, saying in a statement on Monday that the governor “has been clear that we must rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates.”

On Tuesday, a temporary mask mandate for students, staff and visitors to public schools in Dallas went into effect.

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican political consultant who lives in the Lakeway area, a Republican-leaning suburb of Austin, said the rising number of cases has led more people to wear masks. “It is clearly, it is palpable,” he said of the new mask-wearing attitude among his neighbors. “I noticed it and it was like, ‘Whoa,’” he added.

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