The Texas Supreme Court sided Sunday with Gov. Greg Abbott‘s effort to enforce his ban on mask requirements, temporarily halting mandates in Dallas and Bexar counties in the latest wrinkle in the battle over pandemic facial coverings.
In two unsigned orders, the court granted the state’s request for emergency stays in rulings issued Friday by separate state courts of appeal that had allowed local authorities to require masks in schools or indoor areas pending hearings in the cases.
“BREAKING: The Texas Supreme Court imposes a temporary halt to lower court decisions that overruled the State ban on mask mandates,” tweeted Mr. Abbott. “The ban doesn’t prohibit using masks. Anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so, including in schools.”
The city of San Antonio, the Bexar County seat, said in a statement that the stay “has little practical effect,” given that a hearing on the county’s petition for a temporary injunction was scheduled for Monday.
“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,” San Antonio city attorney Andy Segovia said.
Bexar County’s health directive “mandating the use of masks in public schools from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade remains in effect,” while San Antonio facilities still require masks for staff and visitors, the statement said.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the county’s chief executive officer, said Sunday that the high court “narrowly ruled,” staying the temporary restraining order but allowed the temporary injunction hearing to go forward.
“We won’t stop working with parents, doctors, schools, business + others to protect you and intend to win that hearing,” Mr. Jenkins tweeted.
Dallas Independent School District superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Sunday that the district’s masking requirement would remain in place.
“Until there’s an official order of the court that applies to the Dallas Independent School District, we will continue to have the mask mandate,” Mr. Hinojosa told the Dallas Morning News.
Texas is one of several states, including Florida and Missouri, battling localities over efforts to reimpose mask mandates to counter a recent surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
The Fourth Court of Appeals of Texas ruled Friday against Mr. Abbott in the Bexar County case, followed shortly thereafter by a similar ruling in the Dallas County case by the Fifth Court of Appeals.
Mr. Abbott issued an executive order May 18 prohibiting local entities, including counties, cities, school districts and public health officials, from requiring mask-wearing.
“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” said Mr. Abbott in his order. “We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”