Hays County Issues Mask Mandate For Public K-12 Schools, In Defiance Of Governor's Order
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra has issued a mask mandate for all public K-12 schools, defying an order from Gov. Greg Abbott that bans government-issued mask mandates.
The order goes into effect at midnight.
“The mutated, highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, a spike in hospital admissions, including pediatric admissions, and the fact that children younger than 12 years old [are] not eligible to receive the vaccine, all led to the County Judge’s decision to issue the Executive Order,” the county said in a press release.
According to the order, students, staff and visitors over the age of 2 will be required to wear a face covering on school property and on buses. The order applies to all public schools, including public charter schools, in Hays County.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra issued an executive order requiring masks to be worn in all public schools K-12. It goes into effect at midnight tonight.— Hays County Texas (@hayscountygov) August 14, 2021
See the details in a news release on our website (link to the signed order is in the release): https://t.co/QGVss4qiJD pic.twitter.com/hjFEAbfNYq
San Marcos Consolidated ISD's school board has already voted to issue a mask mandate.
Shortly after the announcement of the Hays County order, Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright wrote a letter to families saying it will wait for a decision about mask mandates from the Texas Supreme Court before it implements one, but no matter the decision, masks are still strongly encouraged.
"What we should do is wear masks. Wearing a mask violates no law or order. It is the safe thing to do medically and legally," Wright said. "While we await a decision on whether not wearing a mask violates the law, we will continue to urge parents to send their children to school in masks – especially at the elementary school level where vaccines are not yet an option."
The county judge noted that 70% of children ages 12 to 15 are not yet vaccinated and that children under 12 aren't eligible for the vaccine yet.
“Masks are their only line of defense,” Becerra said.
COVID-19 cases have been on the rise over the past month, and local ICU capacity sunk to its lowest point yet this week. As of Friday, there were just seven intensive care unit beds available in the 11-county region that includes Hays County. This region, known as Trauma Service Area O, serves 2.4 million residents.
“We are experiencing a health crisis emergency with rising hospitalizations, and limited bed space,” Becerra said. “I am concerned about the health and safety of our children and our hardworking faculty and staff members in our ISDs and hospitals. Personal responsibility, undefined, as a disaster response strategy for an infectious disease pandemic is not working.”
Hays County joins several other Texas counties and school districts that have opted to issue mask mandates despite Abbott’s order. The four most populated counties in Texas — Travis, Bexar, Dallas and Harris — all issued mask mandates for public schools this week.
Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have vowed to take local government officials and school districts that violate the governor’s executive order to court. After Abbott faced several defeats in courts in San Antonio and Dallas on Friday, Paxton said in a tweet he has taken the mask mandate battle to the Texas Supreme Court.
“The rule of law will decide,” he said.
Update: This story has been updated with Hays CISD's response to the Hays County order.