Texas Supreme Court temporarily nixes mask mandates issued for Bexar, Dallas counties

The court ruled in favor of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton

(Photo by Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images) (Lynda M. Gonzalez, 2020 Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton, temporarily banning mask mandates in Bexar and Dallas counties.

This means the mask mandate issued for public schools by Bexar County leaders last week is no longer in effect, at least for now.

The ruling came down Sunday afternoon, days after the Fourth Court of Appeals sided against the governor and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts on Friday.

Despite a Texas Supreme Court ruling nixing a temporary mask mandate in Bexar County schools, local officials are back in court Monday hoping to reinstate the mandate.

Even though the Texas Supreme Court has granted a stay, a local district judge will determine on Monday during an injunction hearing whether the local governments can mandate masks. The same goes for Dallas County, which has an injunction hearing set for Aug. 24.

The City of San Antonio issued this statement late Sunday in response to the court’s ruling.

“The City of San Antonio and Bexar County’s response to the Texas Supreme Court continues to emphasize that the Governor cannot use his emergency powers to suspend laws that provide local entities the needed flexibility to act in an emergency,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said. “His suspension authority is meant to facilitate action, not prohibit it.”

Governor Greg Abbott also spoke out and said the ban doesn’t mean Texans can’t still utilize masks.

“The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools,” Gov. Abbott said on social media.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg kept his message simple on social media, following the Texas Supreme Court’s decision.

The mask mandate for public schools in Bexar County began with a court victory on Tuesday, Aug. 10, when 57th Civil District Court Judge Toni Arteaga granted the order, preventing the enforcement of Abbott’s executive order.

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.

Lawyers for the governor and attorney general 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.’”

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 Saturday, the Texas Department of State Health Services reported 9,005 COVID-19 cases and 1,093 probable cases for Bexar County in a span of just seven days, from Aug. 7 to Aug. 14.

The delta variant accounts for the overwhelming majority of COVID-19 cases in the area, and as of last week, the county’s positivity rate soared to 21.4%. This is up from the start of July, when the rate resided at 5.8%.

This is a developing story and we’ll bring more updates as they become available.

About the Authors:

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.