Texas Supreme Court Says Schools Can’t Require Masks as Covid-19 Cases Skyrocket

Texas Supreme Court Says Schools Can’t Require Masks as Covid-19 Cases Skyrocket
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump on June 30, 2021 in Weslaco, Texas. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post, AP)

The Texas Supreme Court temporarily ruled in favour of Gov. Greg Abbott and his ban on mask mandates in the state on Sunday, according to a new report from the Texas Tribune. The ruling comes as Texas struggles with the delta variant of covid-19, which has caused infections to skyrocket in recent weeks, primarily among the unvaccinated.

Two Texas counties, Bexar and Dallas County, had announced they would ignore Gov. Abbott’s statewide order that bans local municipalities from requiring masks in settings like schools, prompting the courts to take up the question of whether the governor’s order was constitutional. The state’s Supreme Court, comprised entirely of Republicans, seems to believe it is.

The CDC released updated guidance on August 5, encouraging both students and staff to wear masks in school settings. The FDA has yet to approve covid-19 vaccines for children under the age of 12, making masks one of the only tools to fight the coronavirus pandemic in children at the moment.

Dallas Independent School District announced it will ignore the Texas Supreme Court’s order, suggesting that it somehow doesn’t apply to Dallas.

“Until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate,” Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the Dallas Morning News late Sunday.

Most schools in the Dallas public school system start the school year today, with roughly 150,000 students and 22,000 employees. All will be required to wear masks, though it’s not clear whether any students or staff will ignore the order, especially in light of the state Supreme Court order.

Bexar County, home to San Antonio, also announced Sunday night that it would ignore the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“The City of San Antonio and Bexar County’s response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasise that the Governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency,” San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement to the Texas Tribune.

Texas is currently recording a seven-day average of roughly 14,000 covid-19 cases per day, with a large uptick in deaths as well. The seven-day average for coronavirus deaths in Texas is currently 137 per day, far higher than it was at the start of August, when the average was 38 new deaths per day, according to the New York Times.

Gov. Abbott was quick to point out that his controversial executive order doesn’t prohibit anyone from wearing a mask, just from mandating they be worn. But the order seems to be at odds with fundamental conservative principles about allowing local governments some autonomy about public health decisions.

“The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks,” Abbott tweeted on Sunday. “Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.”

Texas currently has 11,552 people hospitalized with covid-19, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. Disturbingly, many hospitals are completely out of ICU beds, as local news channel WFAA reported over the weekend.

Texas currently ranks 35th in the country for vaccinations, with just 46.45% of the state’s residents fully vaccinated against covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.

And this surge in the pandemic isn’t just having a negative impact on children, but other vulnerable age groups. Texas ranks 46th out of the 50 states for having nursing home residents vaccinated, according to the Texas Tribune, and 33rd in the country for vaccinated staff at those nursing homes.