Texas Cities, Counties Defy Greg Abbott With Mask Mandates Amid Delta Surge

Texas officials are challenging Governor Greg Abbott's executive order against the imposition of mask mandates by introducing their own requirements for wearing one in public places.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner issued a mask mandate on Monday for all city employees while entering and being in city premises in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

A memo circulated to city employees, and obtained by the Houston Chronicle said: "It is so very important that we remain vigilant in doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19."

One day later Williamson County judges also issued requirements that people entering and working in its Justice Center wear masks.

It will also enforce social distancing inside the Georgetown center.

According to the Austin-American Statesman, the move was prompted after the county and Cities Health District raised the COVID-19 phase to red, the most severe level, on July 19.

The mandates fly in the face of Texas Governor Greg Abbott's recent executive order on July 29 that banned mask mandates made by any entities within the state.

It said, in order to "preserve livelihoods while protecting lives" it would not mandate mask coverings or vaccine uptake across the state, although the Governor did say when transmission rate is high "individuals are encouraged" to follow guidance on face coverings and vaccines.

Gov. Abbott last week also threatened to issue fines against local officials who introduced mandates for masks and vaccine requirements.

On Thursday, Abbott said: "Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."

This is also despite growing fears among some scientists that a new mutated version more deadly than Delta and Lambda could be coming.

The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Texas has hit counties hard in recent days with hospital admissions spiking earlier this week.

Data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services showed that there were 11,774 new confirmed cases in the Lone Star state as of August 3.

It also stated the number of active cases leaped by 8,000 to 112,012 on Tuesday. The spike in cases could also be seen in Central Texas where active cases stand at 3,854 having increased by 600.

The surge in Central Texas led to a sharp increase in patients being taken to hospitals in the region, with about a fifth of beds being occupied in one day.

Newsweek contacted Gov. Abbott, Williamson County, and the office of Mayor Turner for comment.

Newsweek received this reply from Houston Mayor's office:

"The Governor's order exceeds his limited authority under the Texas Disaster Act in a variety of ways. In particular, the Governor has no authority to suspend the disaster authority of local governments that the Legislature has expressly given them.

"The City also interprets the Governor's order to limit the City's ability to regulate the general public during a declared disaster, not to encompass or limit the City's rights as an employer to establish reasonable and necessary workplace safety rules for its employees.

"The mask requirement is consistent with CDC guidance, provides a safe workplace for City employees, including first responders, and will, therefore, minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and other adverse effects the City and its employees have experienced during this pandemic."

Greg Abbott Speaks at a Press Conference
Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference where he signed Senate Bills 2 and 3 at the Capitol on June 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Abbott issued executive orders against mandates being introduced in the state. Montinique Monroe/Getty Images