Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's attempt to get a hurry up decision that would uphold Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to ban anyone else from issuing a mask mandate backfired Thursday as the Texas Supreme ruled the state can't enforce Abbott's ban.
Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee had filed a lawsuit on the county's behalf that challenges Abbott's right to issue such a prohibition. Thanks to the Delta variant, the number of COVID-19 cases has again skyrocketed with an increasing number of them involving children just as more schools open in-person classes.
Menefee released a statement saying: “This is an important decision. It means Harris County’s orders mandating masks for employees and students stand for now. Our lawsuit against the Governor will continue, and we’ll keep giving all we’ve got to ensure local officials and school districts can protect our students and immunocompromised. I’m hopeful today’s decision also means the Texas Supreme Court is taking a hard look at whether Governor Abbott is misusing the Disaster Act and needs to be reined in.”
The state's 3rd Court of Appeals will hear the lawsuit next and from there the case can then be returned to the Texas Supreme Court.
Over in Fort Bend County, District Judge Christian J. Becerra on Thursday granted a temporary restraining order to Fort Bend County officials seeking to mandate face coverings in county buildings. County Judge K.P. George said he will continue his mask order and said he hopes schools will be using them. Fort Bend ISD has said it will follow the governor's directives and encourage but not mandate masks on its campuses.
Abbott has maintained, despite being vaccinated himself and still contracting COVID, that masks should be a personal choice and not required. To date, children 11 and under cannot receive the vaccine and 46 percent of people 12 and older in Texas remain unvaccinated.
On Thursday night on Fox News, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said "African Americans who have not been vaccinated" were the largest group responsible the the recent surge in COVID cases.
“Democrats like to blame Republicans on that. Well, the biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked, over 90 percent of them vote for Democrats in their major cities and major counties,” Patrick said.
The reaction to Patrick's remarks from community leaders and private individuals was swift and not complimentary. Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro tweeted that Patrick's remarks were "reprehensible." Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tweeted "The Lt. Governor's statements are offensive and should not be ignored."
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blames unvaccinated Black people for Covid spread in his state pic.twitter.com/CfwajqECLM— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 20, 2021
Meanwhile, new HISD Superintendent Millard House II continues to add COVID-19 protections to the district's mix, announcing that he will be launching "a virtual academy for some of our most vulnerable students."
"For our students too young to be vaccinated (age 11 and under) and with a compromised immune system, the district will be providing the option of participating in virtual instruction for the fall semester beginning Monday, August 30. While the State will not provide funding for this instruction, the district will leverage ESSER relief funds to cover the costs. The virtual academy will be taught by dedicated central staff so that campus teachers can focus on instructing students who are participating in-person."House promised more details on who is eligible and how to apply will be posted on the district's website at 6 p.m. Friday August 20. Parents will then need to submit an application along with medical documentation by Wednesday, August 25 and may visit any campus starting on the first day of school on August 23 if they need help filing out the forms.
The Texas Education Agency reversed its much-criticized earlier decision this month and on Thursday announced it would require public school districts to conduct contract tracing of COVID cases on their campuses. This means schools will be expected to contact teachers, staff and parents of children who have been in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.