Gov. Abbott argues San Antonio’s mask mandate will ‘shatter’ Texas’ ability to respond to pandemic

Abbott, AG Ken Paxton ask court to nix temporary restraining order that allowed county to mandate masks in schools

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SAN ANTONIOUpdate: The Texas Fourth Court of Appeals ruled against Gov. Greg Abbott, upholding Bexar County’s mask mandate. Read more here.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an appeal Thursday seeking to reverse a Bexar County judge’s temporary restraining order that allowed the county to mandate masks in school.

On Tuesday, Bexar County scored a court victory when 57th Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga granted the order, which prevented the enforcement of Abbott’s latest executive order that barred local governments from imposing any coronavirus-related mandates.

Hours after the temporary court victory, Metro Health issued a health directive requiring masks be worn in public schools in Bexar County and San Antonio.

The temporary restraining order against Abbott’s executive order is only in effect until Monday, when a local district judge will determine whether the local governments can continue mandating masks.

Abbott and Paxton seek to undo Tuesday’s temporary order with their appeal, filed in Texas’ Fourth Court of Appeals.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the governor’s argument is contradictory in a statement released on Friday.

“The Attorney General’s petition says that enabling municipalities to tailor solutions to this public health emergency causes the State harm. The real harm here is putting vulnerable children at risk because of the AG’s political theater,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “More important, the Governor acknowledges a state of emergency but then takes the position that the response can only be a matter of personal responsibility.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff echoed similar sentiments.

”We hope the health and welfare of our children prevail over the political theater that the Governor has created,” Wolff said.

Lawyers for the statewide officials argued that the restraining order “will have shattered” the state’s ability to “carry out an orderly, cohesive, and uniform response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The governor has broad authority through the Texas Disaster Act, according to the brief, which he has relied on to issue executive orders throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The attorney general’s office also took issue with the county’s argument that they have a right to impose a mask mandate under the Texas Health and Safety code.

Those codes say “nothing of whether the Governor, in times of emergency, may suspend that authority or whether the health and safety of Texans statewide is ‘state business.’”

Arteaga’s Tuesday ruling was the first court loss for Abbott’s ban on coronavirus mandates, which have been challenged across the state in recent days.

Like other major cities in Texas, San Antonio has seen a surge in coronavirus cases as students — many of whom are too young to be vaccinated — are returning to school for in-person instruction.

As of Thursday, Bexar County’s 7-day average of new coronavirus cases stood at 1,322. Hospitalizations have also soared to 1,267. By comparison, an average of 140 patients were hospitalized with the virus in early July.

City officials also said that resources have been spread so thin that ambulances were unavailable to respond to emergencies for 26 minutes.

Several school districts have said they will openly defy Abbott’s ban on mask mandates and more court challenges are expected.


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.