Dallas County

Some Texas Leaders Express Support for Dallas County Mask Mandate

Debate grows as a Fort Worth ISD mask order is blocked in court

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Leaders from around the state Friday voiced support for Dallas County’s mask mandate as Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton fight to block it.

It came as a Tarrant County Circuit Court Judge stopped a Fort Worth Independent School District mask order that was approved by the school board Tuesday.

The district issued a statement saying it would abide by the court order, but strongly urges staff and students to wear masks.

As he issued Friday’s order temporarily stopping Fort Worth ISD, Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Fort Worth said, "I hope I don’t upset Dallas County."

The Dallas County Mask mandate took effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday after a Dallas County Circuit Court Judge blocked the Governor’s order and granted Clay Jenkins’ request to mandate masks. It was the opposite of what happened in Fort Worth Friday.

More than a dozen leaders from Houston, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, Waco, Edinburg and Denton spoke in a virtual press conference with Jenkins Friday. 

They supported the local mandates already enacted in many of the communities.

Jenkins said hospitals are crowded with COVID-19 patients and the stakes are very high.

“We are all on 'team public health' and every person needs to understand the enemy is the virus. It's not each other.” Jenkins said.

Waco City Council Member Kelly Palmer said intensive care units are at capacity in her part of the state with the COVID-19 resurgence.

“They were seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Now they’ve only realized that that light was an oncoming train,” Palmer said.

The Denton City Council approved a mask mandate Thursday night, mirroring Dallas County’s order.

“We have shamelessly copied your ordinance strategically, because we want to follow with you, in solidarity,” Denton City Council Member Deb Armintor said. “If they’re going to come after you, they’ll come after us too, and we are stronger together in numbers.”

The battle heated up Aug. 3 when Jenkins ordered masks at a Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting and had Commissioner J.J. Koch escorted out for refusing to wear a mask.

Koch said he supported the Governor’s ban on local mask mandates.

Koch sued Jenkins, but the judge in that lawsuit sided with Jenkins and allowed the expanded Dallas County indoor mask order on Aug. 11 for all businesses, public buildings and schools.

The same debate is happening all over the state.

“We have heard over the last week of hundreds of parents, very worried about sending their kids to school,” said Houston Independent School District Trustee Anne Sung.

Two Austin area officials spoke in opposition to the Governor.

“This is truly a statewide movement, our communities standing up, just to save lives,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said.

Greg Abbott has recommended wearing masks but says it should be a matter of personal responsibility and that his disaster authority is superior to local officials.

Travis County Judge Andy Brown disagreed.

“Every single one of the 254 counties in Texas and more than 12 hundred cities in the state, has unique needs and that’s the whole point of having local health authorities and local elected officials to deal with those unique needs,” Brown said.

Jenkins said he hopes Governor Abbott changes his order.

“If you're going to govern by polls, if you're going to make decisions by polls, the polls are changing as more and more people get sick,” Jenkins said.

A crowd of demonstrators outside Jenkins’ home Thursday night made it clear that Dallas County is also divided on the issue with many opponents to his mask mandate.

From Houston, Christian Menefee, the Harris County Attorney, said the cases are ultimately heading to the state’s highest court.

“I’m confident that the State Supreme Court will take a sober look at the issues, a sober look at the law, and understand the real-world applications of what will come from these cases,” Menefee said.

More local hearings are set in both the Dallas County and Tarrant County cases later in August.

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