Two separate court decisions in Texas have granted local officials the authority to implement face mask mandates in defiance of an order by Governor Greg Abbott prohibiting local governments from issuing such initiatives.
A district judge in Dallas County on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order against the governor’s order, saying Texans “have and will continue to be damaged and injured by Governor Abbott’s conduct.”
Judge Clay Jenkins, the chief executive of the county’s governing board of commissioners, had filed a lawsuit against Abbott’s executive order. Jenkins said on Twitter that he would meet with county emergency officials with the anticipation of issuing an emergency order mandating mask wearing on Wednesday.
Another decision was also handed down Tuesday in Bexar County, where a judge ruled that the county and San Antonio, its county seat, can mandate face coverings in public schools and other public buildings. County and city officials immediately issued mask mandates after the court’s ruling.
The rulings are part of a growing number of actions by local officials in defiance of Abbott’s order. The superintendents of public schools in Dallas and Austin, the state capital, each imposed mandatory face mask orders for their districts earlier this week.
Abbott’s office has issued a statement defending his order, saying it is time for Texans to take “personal responsibility” when it comes to choosing to wear a mask.
The growing opposition to Abbott’s order comes as the southwestern U.S. state faces a dramatic surge of new COVID-19 infections. Figures published by The Texas Tribune reveal there were 2.7 million confirmed cases in 254 counties. Many hospitals across the state have either reached or exceeded patient capacity, with two major hospitals in Houston erecting tents to handle the overflow of coronavirus patients.
Abbott has 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. He is also directing state agencies to search for additional medical personnel outside the state.
Meanwhile in Florida, the Broward County school board voted Tuesday to maintain its face mask mandate in defiance of Governor Ron DeSantis, who has threatened to withhold funding to school districts and withhold salaries of local superintendents and school board members who go against his order banning such mandates. Like Texas, the southeastern state is struggling to deal with a surge of coronavirus patients, with more than 45% of the intensive care beds in Florida hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Unlike Abbott or DeSantis, the governors of Oregon and Hawaii are reimposing restrictions to blunt the spread of the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown will issue an executive order Wednesday mandating that everyone return to wearing face masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. And Governor David Ige of Hawaii issued an order limiting bars, restaurants and gyms to 50% capacity, with patrons required to wear masks at all times except for eating and drinking.
Governor Ige also ordered that all social gatherings be limited to no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.