Nirenberg, Wolff seek Gov. Abbott’s approval to mandate masks in schools, government buildings

Request follows Metro Health’s new coronavirus advisory in San Antonio, Bexar County

With coronavirus infection levels growing, San Antonio and Bexar County officials will hold another news conference on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.
With coronavirus infection levels growing, San Antonio and Bexar County officials will hold another news conference on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m.

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff plan to send Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a letter requesting the ability to enforce masks in schools and government buildings to curb a surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, officials announced Wednesday.

The request comes as Metro Health issued a new advisory urging people, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear masks when indoors, echoing the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because of the governor’s mandate, local officials cannot enforce mask wearing.

Nirenberg said a mask mandate could help save the lives of children as they prepare to return to in-person instruction when the school year starts in a few weeks. They are also requesting help with hospital staffing amid the surge in hospitalizations.

“As you know, students younger than 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination so it’s on all of us to protect those young people in our community,” Nirenberg said during Wednesday’s briefing.

“Schools should be able to do that,” Wolff said of a mask mandate.

But the governor is unlikely to grant their request.

Even as hospitalizations and infections levels surged throughout the state, Abbott on Tuesday shot down the idea of mask mandates on Twitter.

“The time for government mask mandates is over—now is the time for personal responsibility,” Abbott wrote.

In Bexar County, hospitals reported an increase of 44 COVID-19 patients over the past day, bringing current hospitalizations to 629. In early July, roughly 140 people were hospitalized in Bexar County.

Up to 97% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.

“(Unvaccinated people) are putting themselves in great jeopardy, they’re putting everybody else in great jeopardy,” Wolff said.

University Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bryan Alsip said the hospitalizations are straining the county’s bed capacity and staffing.

“What is different now, and particularly frustrating is that nearly every COVID patient admission is preventable,” Alsip said. “Health care staff witness this every single day.”

But vaccination rates have appeared to stall in San Antonio.

Last week, Metro Health reported 75% of people 12 years and older had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 62.1% were fully vaccinated. Those rates only moved incrementally in Tuesday’s update, to 75.5% and 62.5%, respectively.

Health officials said they continue to seek new ways to get residents vaccinated.

“We are constantly getting different feedback from focus groups and surveys from our partners so that we can change the message or change where we have the pop-up sites, change the hours,” said Metro Health Medical Director Dr. Junda Woo.

Read more:

Bexar County is COVID-19 hotspot, CDC map shows

Will San Antonio mandate COVID-19 vaccine for city workers like in California, New York City?

Here are the COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinics taking place around San Antonio


About the Author:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.