Live Updates: Florida, Texas Among States Locked in Face Mask Debate As Schools Reconvene

Live Updates

Parts of the U.S. remain locked in a debate over mask mandates in schools as COVID-19 cases surge and students begin returning to classrooms. Some districts in states like Florida and Texas are directly defying mask mandate bans and filing lawsuits, while other localities were forced to recommend masking in lieu of a requirement for the protective gear.

More than 138,000 new infections were reported nationwide on Thursday, with the seven-day average nearly hitting 126,000. A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that COVID-19 infections among children now make up about 14% of all cases in the U.S.

Florida is one mask battleground, where an executive order from Governor Ron DeSantis will be challenged Friday as Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper is scheduled to hear a lawsuit requesting the ban be lifted.

More than 800 Florida physicians signed an open letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis calling on him to repeal his executive order banning mask mandates in schools and improve other areas of his COVID-19 response. The letter called DeSantis' order "reckless" and requested he lift it, as well as start reporting daily COVID data in its entirety and "do much more to get vaccinations in people's arms."

Oklahoma City Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, announced Friday that it would be requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear face masks in school buildings. The mandate contradicts Senate Bill 658, which prohibits mandating masking in schools unless Gov. Kevin Stitt declares a state of emergency.

In Texas, two major school districts defied a similar order from Governor Greg Abbott by mandating masks for students, and the Southern Center for Child Advocacy filed a lawsuit Sunday saying the ban breaches the state constitution.

Additionally, Harris County plans to take legal action against Abbott's order.

"First responders and school leaders are speaking out and standing up as delta ravages our community. We have their back," Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement Tuesday. "Protecting the community during an emergency is a duty, not an option for government leaders."

The live updates for this event have ended.

People Wear Masks in New Orleans
Some U.S. states, like Florida and Texas, are embroiled in debates over face masks in school and public places as COVID infections remain high. People wearing face masks walk on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter on August 12, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Raleigh, North Carolina, Enacts Mask Mandate for City

Raleigh, North Carolina, is enacting a citywide mandate for face masks Friday evening.

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks in indoors in public, including in restaurants, bars, stores and government buildings. Those in the city also have to wear masks in restaurants in moments when they are not eating or drinking.

"The idea that we can hope COVID-19 will just go away on its own is not a reality. It's time to take responsible action and today we are taking an important step to make sure the people of this community, and those who visit us, remain healthy and safe," Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said in the proclamation.

Citing the increase in #COVID19 cases, Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, with support of City Council, is requiring face mask use in indoor spaces within the City limits beginning at 5 p.m. today (Friday) regardless of vaccination status ➡️ #WearAMask

— City of Raleigh (@RaleighGov) August 13, 2021

Edinburg School District in Texas Requires Masks for Students, Staff, Visitors

The Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District in Texas announced Thursday that all students, staff, visitors and parents would be required to wear face masks when in school buildings.

The measure further challenges Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order, which is facing multiple lawsuits and direct defiance from several districts and counties in the state.

Edinburg CISD 2021-2022 Covid-19 Safety Guidelines. The school district will require masks for all students, staff and visitors for the upcoming school year.

— Edinburg CISD (@Edinburgcisd) August 12, 2021

More Than 1,000 Students in Florida County in Quarantine After COVID Outbreak

More than 1,000 students from Florida's Palm Beach County have entered quarantine mere days into the school year after COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, according to the district.

As of Tuesday, 134 cases were confirmed in the district, 26 among employees and 108 among students. There were 440 students sent to quarantine on Wednesday, and the number grew to 1,020 on Friday.

With over 197,000 students, Palm Beach County is Florida's fifth largest district and the 10th largest nationwide, CBS News reported.

Two of Florida School District Employees Die from COVID-19

Two employees of Florida's Duval County Public Schools have died in the last week from COVID-19, the Florida Times-Union reported. One of the deceased was an assistant principal at Arlington Middle School, while the other was a locksmith for Duval Schools.

It was not clear whether Bobby Rivers, the assistant principal, was vaccinated. Kevin Hubbard, the locksmith, announced on Facebook that he was not vaccinated a couple weeks ago, the Times-Union reported.

This was the first week of school for Duval County Public Schools. It was not immediately clear if either men had been in a school building since classes reconvened.

Greg Abbott, Ron DeSantis Look to Antibody Infusions in COVID Response Despite Calls for Masking

Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have launched initiatives to increase access to antibody treatments for COVID patients while continuing to fight against mask mandates in schools.

Abbott's office announced in a news release Friday that nine new antibody infusion centers would open in Texas. The centers, he said, "play an integral role in our efforts to combat COVID-19 because they help prevent hospitalizations and ensure that resources are available to treat the most severe cases of this virus,

"We will continue to work with local leaders to ensure our communities have the support they need to keep Texans safe and healthy," he said.

The centers will use monoclonal antibodies from biotechnology company Regeneron to treat COVID patients and prevent their condition from getting worse, the release said.

DeSantis also announced the opening of an treatment center Friday that uses "lifesaving" Regeneron antibodies, which he said reduced COVID hospitalizations and deaths by 70% in clinical trials.

The launch of the centers by DeSantis and Abbott coincide with strong backlash from certain districts and counties that worry students and faculty are more vulnerable to the virus because of statewide mask mandate bans. Both governors' executive orders banning the requirement are facing lawsuits and defiance from several school districts and localities.

Monoclonal antibody treatments such as Regeneron have had a major impact in preventing hospitalizations & saved lives. We are utilizing monoclonal antibody strike teams to bring treatment directly to our vulnerable populations in long-term care facilities.

— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) August 12, 2021

Over 800 Florida Physicians Sign Open Letter Calling on DeSantis to Lift Mask Mandate Ban

More than 800 Florida physicians signed an open letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis calling on him to repeal his executive order banning mask mandates in schools and improve other areas of his COVID-19 response.

The letter called DeSantis' order "reckless" and requested he lift it, as well as start reporting daily COVID data in its entirety and "do much more to get vaccinations in people's arms."

"His executive order prohibiting local school districts from implementing COVID-19 safeguards exposes every child to a virus that is deadlier than the flu, as contagious as smallpox and preventable with two basic mitigation measures: mask use and vaccinations," the letter said. "Gov. DeSantis has effectively outlawed the former, and all but ignored the latter. With schools resuming and children returning to classrooms, Gov. DeSantis' anti-safety strategy puts people at risk, including children."

"Enough is enough. Florida needs to mask up, get vaccinated, and have a governor willing to lead," the letter concluded.

More than 800 Florida physicians have signed an open letter to Republican Ron DeSantis calling for him to repeal his executive order restricting the implementation of mask mandates in Florida schools.

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) August 13, 2021

Tennessee's Williamson Board of Education Instates Mask Mandate, Spark Outrage from Parents

Tennessee's Williamson Board of Education imposed a temporary mask mandate Thursday night during a special session that lasted hours.

The mandate, which is scheduled to end Sept. 21, sparked outrage from parents who said masking decisions should be left to them when it comes to their children. Some of the crowd began chanting "No more masks" during one part of the meeting, and one man had to be escorted out by Williamson County Deputies for frequent interruptions.

Since school reconvened on Aug. 6, 25 elementary school students from the district tested positive for the virus, WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said.

"What we are recommending is the best judgment we have based on all the analysis we have," Golden said.

Chicago Public Schools Require Employee Vaccinations by Mid-October

Chicago Public Schools will now require all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-October, apart from who need religious or health exemptions.

In-person school is scheduled to begin in the district on Aug. 30. The order is applicable for all teachers, staff, regular vendors, network employees and workers in the district's central office.

"Our Chicago Public School communities deserve a safe and healthy environment that will allow our students to reach their greatest potential," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. "This new policy enhances the district's comprehensive reopening plan and ensures that students and staff can confidently learn in-person. Taking this step will further our citywide vaccination efforts and build on our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of COVID-19."

'Now Is the Time for Personal Responsibility," Abbott's Press Secretary Says

As more Texas districts and counties enact mask requirements defying Gov. Greg Abbott's mandate ban, Abbott's press secretary released a statement asserting that "now is the time for personal responsibility" rather than state-mandated masking.

Renae Eze wrote in the statement that the "best defense against this virus" is COVID-19 vaccination and that Abbott "has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over."

"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. 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," the statement said.

"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," Eze added.

Texas' Harris County Requires Masks in Schools, Child Care Centers: 'We Have No Choice"

Harris County issued a new health order Thursday that requires masking in schools and child care centers, adding the county to a list defying Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's contested mask mandate ban.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tweeted her support of the measure Thursday, citing surging COVID-19 infections among children preceding the reconvening of schools.

"We have no choice," the tweet said.

NEW: Our Harris County Local Health Authority has issued a Health Order requiring masks in schools and childcare centers.  

Pediatric COVID19 cases are at all- time highs in Texas, and most schools haven’t even started yet. 

We have no choice.

— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) August 12, 2021

14 States Now Require Face Masks in Schools

While some states are embroiled in a face mask debate as districts defy executive order, 14 U.S. states now require face masks for kids in schools.

The states include Virginia, California, Connecticut and Illinois. The full list of states and their provisions can be found here.

Meanwhile, states like Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and South Carolina have implemented orders banning mask mandates for schools. Some states with no overriding requirement for masks or ban of mandates have seen masking required at the local level.

For example, Colorado has no statewide mandate, but Denver and Jeffco Public Schools require masks.

Denton City Council in Texas Passes Mask Mandate for Schools, City Buildings

The Denton City Council in Texas imposed a mask mandate Thursday for Pre-K through 12 public schools, child care centers, businesses and city buildings.

The city joins a string of Texas localities bypassing Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask mandates.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the measure, which took effect Friday and is scheduled to continue until Sept. 30.

Houston Independent School District Approves Mask Mandate

In defiance of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's mask mandate ban, the Houston Independent School District approved a resolution that will require masking in school Thursday night.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II said earlier this week that he planned to impose the requirement. The district board voted 8-0 to enact the plan.

"The safety of our students and staff will continue to be my guiding compass," the superintendent said in a statement. "I am thankful to our board of education for supporting our children and families by prioritizing safety above all else."

Meanwhile, the ban has forced some Texas schools to stick to recommending masking rather than requiring it. Bill Childress Elementary School in El Paso County tweeted Wednesday that face masks are "highly encouraged."

Parents please help us slow the spread of COVID-19 and send your child to school wearing a face mask. Faces masks are highly encouraged. @JFlores_BCE @PedroGalaviz9 @CanutilloISD

— Bill Childress Elementary School (@GoldenEaglesBCE) August 11, 2021

Oklahoma's Largest School District Announces Mask Mandate as State Faces Lawsuit

Oklahoma City Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, announced Friday that it would be requiring all students, staff and visitors to wear face masks in school buildings.

The mandate contradicts Senate Bill 658, which prohibits mandating masking in schools unless Gov. Kevin Stitt declares a state of emergency. OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel said in an email to parents and faculty that the bill only bars school boards, not superintendents and district administration, from imposing a mask requirement.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association, along with others, filed a lawsuit Thursday in Oklahoma County against the bill in an effort to get it lifted.

"The science stands firmly behind vaccinations & masking as important tools in stopping the spread of COVID-19," Oklahoma State Medical Association President Mary Clarke said in a statement.

"This is not a political stance; it is about public health and common sense. If schools can send students home for a lice infection, they should have the latitude and ability to issue a mask mandate."