In Texas, Bexar County Judge Antonia Arteaga has now issued a temporary restraining order blocking the enforcement (within certain areas, at least) of a recent executive order from Republican Governor Greg Abbott that sought to block the imposition of mandates to wear face masks amid the continued spread of COVID-19. Abbott’s order, which was meant to thwart the ability of local officials in Texas to impose these mandates, could put lives in jeopardy, especially as the school year begins. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that Texas had the second-highest daily average of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the nation, but no matter these facts, Abbott has not abandoned his opposition to basic safety measures targeting the virus.
Specifically, the decision from Judge Arteaga allows the city of San Antonio and Bexar County to impose mask mandates for their students, and there’s another hearing set for Monday, at which point something more permanent could be put in place. Abbott’s original order covered a range of potential policies, and Arteaga’s decision does as well — now, local authorities in San Antonio and Bexar County will also be permitted to impose mask mandates for their employees and in facilities owned by the city and county.
A local CBS affiliate from the San Antonio area reported on Tuesday that, in the event of a ruling in their favor from Arteaga (which has now emerged), local health officials would “immediately issue an order requiring masks in public schools and requiring quarantine if an unvaccinated student is determined to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.”
In Texas, school districts in Dallas and Austin have already announced mask mandates for the impending school year, placing local officials in each jurisdiction at odds with the governor. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff (in Texas, chief executives in county governments are known as “judges”) said this week that officials and community members “need to continue to utilize every tool we have to combat the very contagious delta variant,” adding that locals “have come too far to allow our students to be super spreaders and put more lives at risk.”
Abbott and other right-wing leaders have characterized whether to impose mask mandates as an issue of individual liberty, but that’s simply not what this is about. Lives are at stake, and even individuals with symptom-less cases of COVID-19 could spread the virus to those who may be at much greater risk. Texas, meanwhile, isn’t the only state where local school officials have opted to go against pressure from the governor regarding mandates to wear masks. In Florida, local school officials in counties including Alachua, Leon, and Broward — the last of which has an overall population of nearly 2 million — have all opted to put mask mandates in place, no matter a threat from the office of Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to withhold funding for the salaries of officials who impose such mandates.