HOUSTON — There are calls for Texas to require students to wear face masks in school this upcoming session, but Gov. Greg Abbott says that's for parents to decide.
During a visit Wednesday to Houston, Abbott explained why he won't enforce a mask mandate on schools despite growing concern among health experts, including the Center for Disease Control and American Academy of Pediatrics, and a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide. It's strongly recommended both vaccinated and unvaccinated students wear masks at school.
"We’re past the time of government mandates, we’re into the time for personal responsibility, and that’s exactly what we will do," Abbott said.
Abbott added the spread of the virus must be taken seriously, encouraging everyone to get vaccinated, which he believes is "the best way to reduce the spread of COVID."
According to the governor, it's important for everyone to take personal responsibility for their part in stopping COVID-19 spread.
"Everyone has had more than a year to master all the safe strategies that they can choose what’s best for them and their family members," Abbott said.
In May, the governor signed an executive order that prevents state-funded institutions from requiring masks, that includes all public schools and universities. It also blocks county and city mandates.
The order still stands as of July.
Vaccine delays for children under 12
The question of whether students should be required to wear masks is important for parents, especially those with kindergartners and grade schoolers.
Children under the age of 12 are still not eligible for vaccination. Health experts had been predicting that emergency authorization for shots for that age group would come this fall.
Now the Food and Drug Administration says that probably won’t happen until this winter.
Fourth COVID-19 surge in Houston
Health leaders in the Texas Medical Center say COVID numbers are moving in the wrong direction quickly.
Both Houston Methodist and Memorial Hermann are reporting big jumps in hospitalizations since the 4th of July holiday.
Nearly all new cases and hospitalizations are among people who are not vaccinated, according to health leaders.
"We’re clearly seeing the beginning of the fourth wave of this pandemic, which is alarming at best," said TMC CEO Bill McKeon.
McKeon says COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 90 percent in the last two weeks across the Texas Medical Center.
Memorial Hermann has seen a 200 percent increase. A few weeks ago, it was down to 100 patients with COVID-19 across all 13 hospitals in the health system. Now they have 270 patients.
"That’s about 25 percent of what we were like last July at the peak, but we haven't hit the peak yet. This is the beginning. The inflection curve is on a steep uphill. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got to 400 or 500 COVID patients before this wave crests," said Dr. James McCarthy with Memorial Hermann Health System.
With about half of the population in Harris County not vaccinated, Dr. McCarthy says what we’re seeing now is both predictable and preventable.