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San Antonio, Bexar County issue mask mandates for schools

San Antonio, Bexar County issue mask mandates for schools
Patrons wear masks at a public library in Plano, Texas in March. On Tuesday, San Antonio and Bexar County issued mask mandates for public schools. File photo by Ian Halperin/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The Texas city of San Antonio and Bexar County announced all students will be required to wear masks inside K-12 facilities after a judge granted them a temporary restraining order against the Republican governor's executive order prohibiting schools from enforcing mask mandates.

"Our temporary restraining order against the Governor was granted, paving they way for decisions guided by public health professionals," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said on Twitter. "As such, our local health authority has issued a directive requiring masks inside all public K-12 schools in Bexar County."

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Dr. Junda Woo of the San Antonio and Bexar County Health Authority issued a health directive for universal masking, regardless of vaccination status, indoor all public school facilities.

Masking is also required for all city facilities, the health authority said.

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Both rules are effective Wednesday.

"The pandemic has shown us the importance of in-person learning, but with the highly contagious Delta variant now widespread in San Antonio, schools need every tool at their disposal to stay open safely," Woo said in a statement. "We must protect those who are still not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which includes all children under age 12, and the unvaccinated members of their households."

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Woo announced the mask mandate hours after Bexar County District Court Judge Toni Arteaga granted the city of San Antonio and the wider Bexar County a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott's mid-May executive order that prohibits governmental entities, including public health authorities, from requiring face coverings. It was updated in late July to prohibit so-called vaccine passports.

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The ruling is a setback for the Republican governor who has been against sweeping COVID-19 mitigation measures despite his state dealing with a surge in cases.

A day earlier, Abbott had announced he was seeking out-of-state medical professionals to staff Texas' COVID-19 operations in order to increase hospital capacity as it confronts the aggressive Delta variant.

On Tuesday, the health authority confirmed nearly 14,000 new COVID-19 infections, which continues a trend of spiking cases after experiencing a low of below 800 in mid-June.

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The City of San Antonio and Bexar County announced their legal challenge to the executive order earlier Tuesday, stating it suspends local government's authority to act to protect public safety in violation of statutes enacted in state legislature, including a 1975 law that gives local officials authority to enact emergency health measures.

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"Ironically, the governor is taking a state law meant to facilitate local action during an emergency and using to prohibit local response to the emergency that he himself declared," Nirenberg said.

The temporary restraining order will be in effect until Monday when there is to be another hearing on the matter.

Renae Eze, Abbott's press secretary, issued a statement, saying that the governor's "resolve to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans has not wavered," local news station KSAT reported.

"There have been dozens of legal challenges to the Governor's executive orders -- all of which have been upheld in the end," she said. "We expect a similar outcome when the San Antonio trial court's decision is reviewed by the appellate courts."

Abbott is not the only Republican governor pursuing such restrictions.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a similar executive order around the same time that Abbott issued his and he has come under similar backlash with several officials stating they will mandate mask-wearing anyway.

On Monday, DeSantis' office threatened the pay of district superintendents and county school board members who go through with mask requirements when schools re-open for the academic year.

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