Texas Governor More Concerned With Stopping Mask Mandates Than Stopping the Virus

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Officials in one Texas city are literally sounding the alarm over rising Covid-19 cases in the state, as the seven-day average number of confirmed cases has steadily risen since late July and surpassed 10,000 over the weekend, according to the Department of State Health Services. But Republican Governor Greg Abbott continues to thwart local governments that want to make masks mandatory, caring more about stopping mask mandates than the virus.

The city of Austin activated its emergency response system over the weekend to warn residents of rising cases and encourage them to mask up, get vaccinated and stay home to fight the spread of the virus. But the city can’t mandate any of those measures because of an executive order Abbott signed last month.

Abbott’s order bans government-enforced mask or vaccine mandates. It states that “no governmental official may require any person to wear a face covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering” and that “no governmental entity can compel any individual to received a Covid-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization.” Some facilities, such as hospitals, state prisons and local jails, however, were granted an exception. Schools were not.

Instead, the Texas Education Agency backed up Abbott’s order, stating that school districts cannot mandate masks but students may choose to wear them. The agency also said schools are not required to perform contact tracing or inform parents of a positive Covid-19 case.

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed with rising cases. “The situation is critical,” Dr. Desmar Walkes of the Austin-Travis County Health Authority said in a statement. “Our hospitals are severely stressed and there is little we can do to alleviate their burden with the surging cases. The public has to act now and help our we will face a catastrophe in our community that could have been avoided.”

Walkes added that there is “extremely limited” availability of hospital beds not only for patients with coronavirus but also for “anyone who may need treatment.”

That is the case in many areas of the state, including in Houston as well as Dallas where one hospital’s ICU occupancy has reached 96 percent. “Why is that important?” Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council President and CEO Stephen Love told NBC DFW. “Suppose you’re on I-30 and you’re in a car wreck and you really need a trauma surgeon and you need an ICU bed. We don’t want to reach a point where we run out of ICU beds.”

In a statement to the New York Timesan Abbott spokesperson said that the governor is forgoing mandates in favor of “personal responsibility.”

“Governor Abbott has been clear that we must rely on personal responsibility, not government mandates,” the spokesperson said. “Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated.”

But some local officials are bucking Abbott’s orders. Dallas Independent School District announced Monday that students and teachers will temporarily need to mask when on campus. And the largest public school district in the state, Houston Independent School District, is planning to hold a board meeting this week to discuss implementing a mask mandate and other Covid-19 protocols.