Two school districts in Texas are defying an order issued by Governor Greg Abbott that prohibits local governments from issuing face mask mandates as the southwestern U.S. state faces a dramatic surge of new COVID-19 infections.
Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, announced Monday that all students and teachers should wear face masks. The move comes just days after the superintendent of Houston’s public schools, the state’s largest school district, announced that he would ask the district’s trustee board to approve a similar mandate.
The head of Dallas County’s governing board of commissioners, Judge Clay Jenkins, has filed a lawsuit against Abbott’s executive order. The nonprofit South Center for Child Advocacy has also filed a lawsuit in Travis County, whose county seat, Austin, is also the state’s capital city, seeking a temporary restraining order against the governor’s order.
Amid the growing opposition to his order, Abbott on Monday called for hospitals across the state to voluntarily delay all elective, or non-emergency, surgeries and medical procedures to focus all of their efforts on treating the increasing number of COVID-19 patients. Many hospitals have either reached or exceeded patient capacity, with two major hospitals in Houston erecting tents to handle the overflow of coronavirus patients.
Abbott is also directing state agencies to search for additional medical personnel outside the state to help with the new surge of patients.
Another governor battling with local officials over mask mandates as COVID-19 cases rise in his state is Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has threatened to withhold funding to school districts and withhold salaries of local superintendents and school board members who defy his order banning such mandates. Like Texas, the southeastern state is struggling to deal with the new surge of coronavirus patients, with more than 40% of the intensive care beds in Florida hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients.
The New York Times says the United States is now averaging more than 100,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, the biggest numbers since February, when the coronavirus vaccines were first made available to the general public.
Health experts have blamed the new surge on the spread of the more contagious delta variant and the declining number of Americans seeking vaccination.
Many of the new COVID-19 cases are among young children who are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine, according to the Times.