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Bexar County can issue mask mandate for schools despite Gov. Abbott’s ban, judge says in temporary order

The development comes after the city and county filed a joint lawsuit against Gov. Abbott's ban on local COVID-19-related mask orders.

SAN ANTONIO — Public school officials in the San Antonio area will be allowed to issue mask-wearing mandates as the new year gets underway, following a temporary restraining order issued by a Bexar County judge against the state. 

Judge Antonia Arteaga issued the order at a hearing on Tuesday afternoon, just hours after local officials announced they were filing a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott for his ban on local face covering orders. 

A morning tweet from Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the lawsuit against the governor is to restore local control to address COVID-19. 

"Unvaccinated kids shouldn't be forced to gamble with their lives while the deck is stacked against them," his tweet read. 

He tagged Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in the post, saying that they both want to protect the community's schools.

A press release was also sent Tuesday morning, detailing the city and county's joint lawsuit. It asks for temporary restraining order to prevent enforcement of the governor’s latest emergency order. If the courts grant this, the San Antonio Bexar County Health Authority will immediately issue an order requiring masks in public schools and requiring quarantine if an unvaccinated student is determined to be in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

DOCUMENT: City of San Antonio and Bexar County lawsuit against Gov. Abbott

“We are challenging the governor’s authority to suspend local emergency orders during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mayor Nirenberg. “Ironically, the governor is taking a state law meant to facilitate local action during an emergency and using it to prohibit local response to the emergency that he himself declared.”  

This comes after Gov. Abbott continues to block local government officials from creating masks mandates. Abbott’s order limits school officials’ ability to respond to the pandemic. With the delta variant on the rise, more children are being sent to hospitals.

Dallas and Austin ISDs have already announced they would implement mask mandates for the fall semester, defying Abbott's order. Houston ISD is expected to approve the same measure later this week. 

“As the school year begins, the health of our students, especially those under 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated, are being put at risk. The pandemic is not over.  We need to continue to utilize every tool we have to combat the very contagious delta variant. We have come too far to allow our students to be super spreaders and put more lives at risk," Wolff said. 

And as the coronavirus infections surge, Freeman Coliseum's Expo Hall is being turned into a no-cost antibody infusion site once again.

The site is one of five which have been organized across Texas. A similar effort was undertaken at a previous point in the pandemic, during which time more than 3,000 patients were assisted, according to Judge Wolff. He says more beds are being utilized this time around.

"This is what it looks like when you have a medical system in crisis," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, gesturing to the setup behind him.

In response to the lawsuit, Governor Abbott's office issued the following statement:

“The assertion that the Governor of the State of Texas doesn’t have the authority to protect the rights and freedoms of Texans is just plain misguided. Under Chapter 418, the Governor has full authority to issue executive orders that have the full force and effect of law in response to a disaster. This health disaster has continued to change, and so should our response. Texans have learned and mastered over the past year the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, and do not need the government to tell them how to do so. 

Removing government mandates, however, does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for family members, friends, and your community. Vaccines are the most effective defense against contracting COVID and becoming seriously ill, and we continue to urge all eligible Texans to get the vaccine. The COVID vaccine will always remain voluntary and never forced in Texas.”