Local officials in Texas who have been battling their governor over mask mandates said they would continue to require face coverings in schools despite a setback in the state Supreme Court.
The latest manifestation of the political divide over how to beat back the coronavirus comes as the Delta variant is leading a spike in new cases, including among children.
Texas' highest court on Sunday voided two temporary lower court orders that had permitted counties that are home to Dallas and San Antonio, the state's most populous cities after Houston, to require masks in schools. The lower court orders had overruled an order by Republican Governor Greg Abbott.
The local mask orders align with the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the Dallas Independent School District welcomed students back to class on Monday for the start of the academic year, its website declared, "We are still requiring that masks be worn while on district property."
Officials in Dallas County and San Antonio noted the high court ruling still allows them to make their legal cases for a permanent court order against the governor's anti-mask mandate.
As of last week, Texas and seven other states with Republican governors — Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina and Utah — had passed laws or issued orders preventing local officials from making mask-wearing mandatory, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
Many Republicans have said that wearing masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus should be a personal choice, which in the case of school children should be decided by parents.
Ten states run by Democratic governors — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington — and the District of Columbia are requiring masks worn in schools, according to Pew.
INCHING TOWARD 37 MILLION CASES
The number of new COVID-19 cases fueled by the new, highly transmissible Delta variant jumped about 81% over the past 14 days to 1.67 million cases in the United States, according to a Reuters tally. The United States is inching towards 37 million cases since the pandemic began in early 2020.
The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States was 1,834 on Monday after hitting a record high of 1,902 on Saturday, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Children currently make up about 2.4% of the nation's COVID-19 hospitalizations. Kids under 12 are not eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines, leaving them more vulnerable to infection from the new variant.
In response to the Texas high court's ruling, Abbott said on Twitter: "The ban doesn't prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools."
The lower court order covering San Antonio had been due to expire on Monday anyway, the city said in a statement, so it has "little practical effect."
In Dallas County, the order was set to expire on Aug. 24.
In Florida, Broward County schools bucked Governor Ron DeSantis' anti-mask mandate last week.
Meanwhile in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday required all healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
A similar order was issued for the District of Columbia on Monday.
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