Texas governor's ban on mask mandates dealt second legal blow

By Lisa Shumaker and Peter Szekely 

  (Reuters) – Texas Governor Greg Abbott's statewide ban on mask mandates has hit its second legal setback, as a judge in Dallas County temporarily blocked it from being enforced amid a nationwide rise in new coronavirus cases. 

  The temporary order by Judge Tonya Parker issued late on Tuesday allows officials in the state's second-most populous county to require masks indoors, despite Abbott's July order against such mandates. A hearing on Aug. 24 will determine whether to extend the temporary order. 

  The top elected official in Dallas County, Judge Clay Jenkins, who sought the court order issued late Tuesday, said preventative steps such as mask-wearing are needed to combat a spike in new cases of COVID-19. 

  "Models predict ongoing dramatic increases in cases and hospitalizations over the coming weeks that will exceed the peak earlier this year unless behavior change takes place," he said Tuesday on Twitter. 

  The Dallas Independent School District had already defied Abbott's order, saying on Monday that it would also require masks. 

  Earlier on Tuesday, another Texas court granted an order at least until Monday that enables officials in San Antonio and Bexar Counties to require that masks be worn in public schools. 

  Spurred by the Delta variant, the country's coronavirus cases have spiked to their highest levels in more than six months, according to a Reuters tally. New U.S. cases https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR have increased more than five-fold over the past month with the seven-day average hitting 118,000 on Tuesday. 

  Oregon and Washington state are also grappling with surges in cases and hospitalizations as the outbreak spreads beyond the epicenter in the U.S. South. 

  On Tuesday, Oregon reported both a record number of hospitalized coronavirus patients as well as its largest one-day increase in cases, with over 2,300 new infections. 

  Oregon Governor Kate Brown on Wednesday is expected to announced all state executive branch employees must be vaccinated, and she is also expected to reimpose a statewide indoor mask mandate, according to local media reports. 

  In neighboring Washington, cases and hospitalizations have climbed sharply so far in August. 

  Three sparsely populated counties have asked the state health department to send a "strike team" after COVID infections tripled in Ferry and Stevens counties and doubled in Pend Oreille County in the past two weeks, straining the local hospitals. 

  Of those new cases, 97.4% were in residents not fully vaccinated, according to the website of the Northeast Tri County Health District, which requested the state assistance. 

  SOUTHERN EPICENTER 

  The COVID outbreak is still the worst in Southern states based on new cases and hospitalizations per capita in recent weeks. 

  Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana are all reporting record COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent days. On Tuesday, Mississippi reported a record one-day rise in cases of nearly 3,500 and the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is nearing the record the state set in January. 

  Abbott and fellow Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida have faced local uprisings https://www.reuters.com/world/us/florida-texas-schools-defy-governors-bans-mask-mandates-covid-cases-soar-2021-08-10 against their statewide orders that prevent local officials from deciding whether to require that masks be worn. 

  Florida's Broward County school board on Tuesday flouted an order by DeSantis that outlaws mask requirements in the state, prompting the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-seeks-support-florida-schools-threatened-by-governor-over-masks-2021-08-10, a Democrat, to say it was considering supporting the school districts financially if DeSantis retaliates against them by withholding funds from officials' salaries. 

  Over the past seven days, Florida had the country's second-highest rate of new infections based on population, while Texas had the 10th highest, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  Florida set a record for the number of COVID patients hospitalized for 10 days in a row, with 15,449 patients on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

  (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Lisa Shumaker in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty) 

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