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Texas Schools Defy Abbott’s Mask Mandate Ban as Two Judges Block Order Amid Skyrocketing COVID Cases

© REUTERS / Jose Luis GonzalezA Mexican woman receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a binational vaccination program, at the Tornillo-Guadalupe international bridge, in Tornillo, Texas, U.S., July 28, 2021
A Mexican woman receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, during a binational vaccination program, at the Tornillo-Guadalupe international bridge, in Tornillo, Texas, U.S., July 28, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.08.2021
Texas medical officials warned state lawmakers in Tuesday testimonies that state hospitals are on the brink of catastrophe, noting the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has risen faster than at any point in the pandemic thus far.
A Texas judge has temporarily blocked an order by Governor Greg Abbott that would have banned mask mandates from public schools in the state. Abbott is one of several sharply conservative governors adamantly resisting new safety measures that could limit the spread of the ultra-transmissive COVID-19 Delta variant.
On Tuesday, Bexar County Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga sided with Bexar County and the city of San Antonio, which challenged Abbott’s July 29 executive order banning state, county and municipal governments from requiring any kind of COVID-19 safety measure from citizens, from vaccination to masking and social distancing.
“[T]he path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott said in the order. “Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, and engage in leisure activities. Vaccines, which remain in abundant supply, are the most effective defense against the virus, and they will always remain voluntary – never forced – in the State of Texas.”
However, Judge Arteaga pointed out that children under the age of 12 don’t have access to the vaccine, since the Food and Drug Administration has only approved its use so far for certain age groups based on the emergency situation created by the pandemic.
“So, I do find that this is emergent, I do find that it is necessary,” Arteaga said, according to local news radio station KTSA, having noted earlier that “I don’t do this lightly.”

Dallas Blocks Indoor Mask Ban

Judge Tonya Parker of the 116th Civil District Court in Dallas also issued a slightly different block on Abbott’s executive order on Tuesday when she ruled that the governor couldn’t stop city officials from requiring masking indoors.
“Judge Jenkins cannot be precluded from implementing the mitigation strategies he believes sound, reliable, and backed by scientific evidence on which he relies and must be able to mitigate the damage, injury, and potential loss of life related to the COVID-19 virus,” Judge Parker wrote in the order, referring to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who brought the challenge to her court.
​“Judge Jenkins and the citizens of Dallas County will be irreparably harmed if Judge Jenkins is barred from engaging in mandatory mitigation practices, including face coverings and mask mandates,” she added. “Face coverings and masks are an effective mitigation strategy and can further reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
In justifying the restraining order he issued on Monday, Jenkins wrote on Twitter that “the enemy is not each other, [t]he enemy is the virus and we must all do all that we can to protect public health … Ultimately, it is about saving lives and saving and protecting children.”
Abbott has long been hostile to mask mandates in particular, and Texas was among the first states to drop them in early March as the US emerged from its worst wave of COVID-19 yet - a move US President Joe Biden derided as “neanderthal thinking.” 
He later threatened to sue the capital city of Austin if it defied his ending of the mask mandate and when that failed and his order was struck down by a Texas judge, he issued a new executive order banning “governmental entities and officials from mandating face coverings or restricting activities in response to the COVID-19 disaster.”
The Austin school district joined Dallas on Monday in introducing a mask mandate in defiance of Abbott’s order, and Houston’s school district could do the same later this week if the school board approves the move.

Outbreak Outstrips Texas’ Abilities

Meanwhile, Abbott has continued to seek help for state institutions as the latest COVID-19 outbreak presses medical resources past their limits.
On Monday, the Texas governor directed the Department of State Health Services to appeal to other states for additional medical staff, and that the Texas Hospital Association should ask area hospitals to voluntarily postpone all elective medical procedures in order to maximize availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
Medical facilities across the state are preparing overflow facilities in tents as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has exceeded 10,000 for the first time in six months.
According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the seven-day average for daily new COVID-19 cases in the state has increased by 280% over the past two weeks, from an average of roughly 4,500 per day in late July to an average of 12,500 per day this week.
Since the pandemic began, 52,471 Texans have died of COVID-19. CDC data shows that 53% of the population, or two-thirds of adults, have received at least one vaccine dose - among the highest in the South, a region that has become the epicenter for the latest outbreak in large part due to its low vaccination rates. 
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