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Texas Supreme Court declines to uphold governor’s ban on mask mandates

Protester's placard on keeping schools safe from COVID-19
Students and parents gathered Monday outside the Texas governor’s mansion in Austin in support of school mask mandates.
(Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The Texas Supreme Court declined Thursday to block restraining orders against Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates.

The justices remanded Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton’s appeal to the 3rd Texas Court of Appeal in Austin for a hearing. The court did not issue an opinion for its decision.

The move came the same day that the Texas Education Agency suspended enforcement of Abbott’s order barring mandatory masks in public schools. In a letter, the agency said enforcement was being dropped because of ongoing court challenges to the ban.

In an emergency order issued last month, Abbott reaffirmed his ban on mask mandates by any government entity, although federal agencies have mandated masks in their facilities. Abbott, who tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week, and Paxton have said they would sue any entity that does not comply with the emergency order. No such lawsuit has been filed.

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The Texas Supreme Court had upheld the ban in a previous decision, but that did not stop dozens of entities from imposing mask mandates anyway.

Several southern Texas school districts, along with the state’s most populous county, have sought to override Abbott’s ban on mask mandates, which they argued is making the COVID-19 pandemic worse.

In Florida, Texas and Arizona, despite Republican governors’ prohibitions on requiring masks, school boards in mostly Democratic locales are imposing their own public safety rules.

Before granting temporary restraining orders against the ban, state District Judge Jan Soifer said she was troubled that Abbott’s executive order prohibited policies believed necessary by schools and local authorities.

Seven counties and 48 school districts have implemented mask mandates, Abbott’s ban notwithstanding.

As of Aug. 8, in the most recent figure available from the Texas Department of State Health Services, 829 students and 872 staff members had tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, the Iraan-Sheffield Independent School District in West Texas closed its schools for two weeks so that students and staff could go into quarantine.

The push for masking and social distancing came as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to soar across Texas, largely because of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. The rolling seven-day average of daily new cases in Texas was 16,000 on Tuesday, compared to 1,495 on June 30, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations have reached levels not seen since late January, with 12,705 people hospitalized on Wednesday, state health officials reported.

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As hospital beds fill, especially in intensive care units, Abbott directed the Texas Department of State Health Services to use staffing agencies to import medical personnel from out of state to bolster the COVID-19 operations of Texas healthcare facilities. But he stuck to his ban on mask mandates.


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