Three Fort Bend County commissioners want the courts to decide the legality of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order preventing local governments from imposing mask wearing in public and schools.
Following an emergency session on Wednesday, commissioners voted 3-2 to have the county attorney file a temporary restraining order challenging Abbott’s executive order.
“We are experiencing a health crisis emergency and I am concerned about the health and safety of our children and the hardworking employees in Fort Bend County,” said County Judge KP George. “How do you strip local government of the power to protect public safety? You cannot play with people’s lives, and I feel that the governor’s executive order causes harm and risks the health and safety of our public employees and their families, many of whom have school-age children.”
Harris County filed a similar lawsuit earlier Wednesday.
On Tuesday, two separate state district judges granted local authorities in Dallas and Bexar counties temporary power to issue mask mandates, in major rebukes to Abbott’s efforts to ban local mask orders across Texas.
On Tuesday, George asked for the state to lift its ban on mask mandates for schools, saying local hospitals are being stretched to their limits as more COVID-19 cases are reported.
The delta variant continues to lead to a rise in COVID cases, as 903 new cases were reported on Sunday and Monday, along with 14 new deaths. That moves the death toll of those who succumbed to the virus in Fort Bend County to 760.
County hospitals averaged 170 COVID patients per day, which are 72 more than it averaged last month. As of Wednesday, 21.9% of patients in hospitals are COVID positive, according to numbers provided by the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council.
Fort Bend County health director Dr. Jacqueline Minter said that of the hospitalized patients in county hospitals, “80% to 99% of the persons hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated,” she said. “This is ground-level information.”
Minter also said that 96% of those who have died from the virus were also unvaccinated.
She also stated that 13% of cases are in children ages 11 and younger, which are the age group that is unable to be vaccinated, while 24% are in ages 4 to 19, which are the ones that will be going back to K-12 schools.
Only 44% of county residents between the ages of 12 to 19 are vaccinated, Minter said.
As Fort Bend ISD had its first day of school on Wednesday and Lamar Consolidated ISD will open its schools on Aug. 23, George wrote a letter to Texas education commissioner Mike Morath on Wednesday, asking him to allow school districts to implement a mask mandate and have a virtual school option for families who don’t want to send their children to schools until the current wave of COVID-19 has subsided.
“COVID cases are expected to increase exponentially once schools open,” George wrote. “We are already seeing high numbers and I feel that it is important that we do everything in our power to reverse this trajectory, but that can only happen through more vaccinations and having requirements on face coverings in public places, such as our schools, during this critical time.”
“As a parent and former school board member yourself, I know that you know well the tough decisions local leaders face in protecting our children and their educators. By actively acknowledging the current crisis and advocating for these measures, we can keep our children in school this year and keep them safe.”
Several school districts in the state have added a mask mandate, including Houston ISD and Spring ISD, which are in defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mandates.
“Gov. Abbott’s resolve to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans has not wavered,” said Renae Eze, a spokeswoman for Abbott’s office. “There have been dozens of legal challenges to the governor’s executive orders—all of which have been upheld in the end. We expect a similar outcome when the San Antonio trial court’s decision is reviewed by the appellate courts.”
The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.