Texas county issues mask mandate, going against Abbott order

A Texas county on Thursday issued a mask mandate, conflicting with an executive order from Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

According to Harris Public Health, which covers Houston, the order applies to all public and nonreligious private schools and students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It also pertains to licensed child care centers offering care for the 2021-22 school year.

County executive Lina Hidalgo said on Twitter that the order requires masks to be worn in school and childcare centers.

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Hidalgo said with pediatric cases of COVID-19 rising in Texas, the county had “no choice.”

“Pediatric COVID19 cases are at all-time highs in Texas, and most schools haven’t even started yet. We have no choice,” she wrote.

Harris County, the nation's third largest by population, is the latest to defy Abbott’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates as local authorities seek to control the spread of COVID-19 with the school year quickly approaching.

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Dallas County reinstated its indoor mask mandate for businesses, schools and county buildings on Wednesday evening. Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) have asked a court to block that mandate.

Asked about the Harris County mandate, Abbott's press secretary Renae Eze told The Hill in a statement “we are all working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor’s executive orders—and violating parental rights—is not the way to do it."

"Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility. Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with any other decision in their child’s life. Governor Abbott has spent his entire time in office fighting for the rights and freedoms of all Texans, and our office continues working with the Office of the Attorney General to do just that. The best defense against this virus is the COVID vaccines, and we continue to strongly encourage all eligible Texans to get vaccinated," Eze said. 

The Hill has reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) for comment.

Bexar County and the City of San Antonio also issued mask mandates for schools and buildings owned by the city and county earlier this week after successfully persuading a court to grant a temporary restraining order to prevent Abbott’s executive order from being enforced.

Updated: 1:37 p.m.