Texas governor faces legal challenges on mask mandate ban as hospitalizations soar

Texas governor faces legal challenges on mask mandate ban as hospitalizations soar

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is asking hospitals to stop non-emergency medical procedures to free up space for covid-19 patients as a rise in new infections limits the availability of hospital beds to treat them.

Yet as Abbott touted the move as “taking action” to combat coronavirus cases that are now averaging more than 10,000 each day in the state, his order to ban mask mandates is facing challenges.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, a Democrat and elected official, said Monday evening he filed a temporary restraining order against the ban, declaring that the governor lacks the legal authority to impose it.

“This is about ensuring there’s adequate medical resources and hospital bed capacity to take care of people with [coronavirus] and any other condition that requires medical care or hospitalization,” Jenkins tweeted. A children’s advocacy group also filed a lawsuit challenging Abbott’s order on Sunday. A representative for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hospitalizations across the United States have soared past the peak seen in last summer’s Sun Belt surge, straining resources in hot-spot states, such as Texas, which have resisted renewing pandemic restrictions. Current hospitalizations for the virus passed 68,000 nationwide on Monday — well over last summer’s high of about 66,000 — as daily new admissions approached 15,000.

In Texas, where the latest state data shows nearly 9,500 people are currently hospitalized with covid-19, Abbott announced that out-of-state health-care workers would come to assist. Intensive care units in Houston resemble a “war zone,” a doctor there told the local ABC affiliate. A hospital system there is preparing huge tents to treat an overflow of patients, according to CNN.

Florida and Louisiana on Monday also reported hospitalizations at all-time records. In Arkansas, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said Monday that only eight ICU beds were open statewide and that the state hit its largest single-day increase in hospitalizations.

Abbott said his request for hospitals to voluntarily scale back procedures “for which a delay will not result in loss of life or the deterioration of a patient’s condition” is meant to ensure that the state’s hospitals and residents “have the resources and support they need to mitigate the virus.”

It’s a retreat to the measures Abbott and other governors took in the early months of the pandemic, before coronavirus vaccines were widely available. In June 2020, Abbott ordered a similar stop on non-emergency procedures amid an increase in cases.

Yet medical experts and local leaders from across the state have said that Abbott’s executive order last month — which barred government entities including cities, counties and public schools from mandating masks or vaccines — has left communities vulnerable to the onslaught of infections brought by the more contagious delta variant.

In a rebuke of the ban, the Dallas Independent School District will require, starting Tuesday, that all students and staff wear masks in school buildings. Announcing the decision on Monday, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said that “with numbers getting significantly worse, this decision is urgent.”

Earlier this month President Biden called out Republican officials — after being asked about Abbott and Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — for blocking efforts he said could curb the virus’s spread. “I say to these governors: Please help. But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way,” he said.

The Biden administration has directed agencies throughout the federal government to devise plans for requiring workers to get vaccinated. Defense officials said Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will require all active service members to get a coronavirus vaccine shot by mid-September, an acknowledgment of the way the virus can wreak chaos in military units.

Some states have made similar moves. Washington state, where infections are rising, said it would require most state employees and all nursing home staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus by October, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said Monday. Just over half the American population is now fully immunized, according to CDC data.

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