Fort Bend County hospitals continue to be packed with COVID-19 cases as cases continue to rise, and as schools prepare to be open next week for the first day of school, Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council reported.

Over 29% of patients in county hospitals are COVID-19 patients, a stunning rise of 10% in the past week, the council reported.

The council tracks hospital bed usage in the region.

Over 176 patients tested positive for COVID as of Monday morning, with 38 more in intensive care units, the council announced.

The strain on hospitals in the area and in the state is the reason Fort Bend County Judge KP George filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on mask mandates to help slow the spread of the virus.

The county went over the 60,000 number of cases last week, as the county reported 573 new cases in the last week. No new deaths are reported to keep the death toll at 760.

Fort Bend County filed and got a temporary restraining order against Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates. But while the county implemented a mask mandate at county facilities, none of the school districts in the county will enforce mask wearing at their schools.

Lamar Consolidated ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Needville ISD and Brazos ISD will all have optional mask wearing for students and staff at their schools. Fort Bend ISD opened for classes last Wednesday, and the other school districts plan to open on Aug. 23.

“Needville ISD will leave decisions up to the individuals. Masking is an option if one so chooses but masking is not mandatory,” a district statement said.

“Vaccinations for eligible individuals are an option, not mandatory. We will limit visitors to campuses and social distance as best we can. We expect everyone to respect the decision of each individual, student, and staff.“

Fort Bend County Health and Human Services director Dr. Jacquelyn Minter responded in a statement where she asked local school boards to take action now on mask mandates before an outbreak happens at their schools.

“Based on my experience with the deliberate and thoughtful decision making of school leaders to reduce the spread of disease during the previous school year, and the data provided on the growing severity of disease in our county, I am certain that the Independent School Districts Boards of Trustees will not wait until a disease outbreak has occurred affecting their campuses, students and staff before extraordinary measures are required to stop the spread of disease in schools and communities,” Minter said in the statement.

Fort Bend County’s temporary restraining order is still active despite the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling on Sunday that temporarily blocked mask mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a writ of mandamus petition to the court saying that the governor has power of “commander-in-chief” during a disaster under the Texas Disaster Act.

Paxton has said he will file the same writ of mandamus in the case against Fort Bend County.

“Let this ruling serve as a reminder to all ISDs and Local officials that the Governor’s order stands,” Paxton tweeted after Sunday’s ruling.

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