Gov. Greg Abbott appealed for out-of-state help to fight the third wave of COVID-19 in Texas while two more of the state’s largest school districts announced mask mandates in defiance of the governor.
Abbott’s request Monday came as a county-owned hospital in Houston raised tents to accommodate their COVID-19 overflow. Private hospitals in the county already were requiring their staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Meantime, the Dallas and Austin school districts announced Monday that they would require students and staff to wear face masks. The Houston school district already announced a mask mandate for its students and staff later this week if its board approves.
The highly contagious delta variant is fueling the wave.
The Republican governor has directed the Texas Department of State Health Services to use staffing agencies to find additional medical staff from beyond the state’s borders as the delta wave began to overwhelm its present staffing resources. He also has sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association to request that hospitals postpone all elective medical procedures voluntarily.
Hospital officials in Houston said last week that area hospitals with beds had insufficient numbers of nurses to serve them.
Abbott also directed the state health department and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to open additional COVID-19 antibody infusion centers to treat patients not needing hospital care and expand COVID-19 vaccine availability to the state’s underserved communities. He also announced about $267 million in emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food benefits for August. That was on top of the $3.9 billion in benefits previously allocated since April 2020.
The governor is taking action short of lifting his emergency order banning county and local government entities from requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing to lower the COVID-19 risk. Abbott has said repeatedly that Texans have the information and intelligence to make their own decisions on what steps to take to protect their health and the health of those around them.
Also Monday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins filed a lawsuit asking a judge to strike down Abbott’s mask mandate ban.
Meantime, one of Houston’s two county-owned hospitals was pitching tents to accommodate its COVID-19 overflow. Harris Health System and Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in northeastern Houston added nearly 2,000 square feet of medical tents in the hope of taking control of the anticipated increase in patient volume and keep staff and non-COVID-19 patients safe.
Last week, Houston area officials said the wave of delta variant infections so strained the area’s hospitals that some patients had to be transferred out of the city, with one being sent to North Dakota.
In Dallas, the superintendent of the state’s second-largest public school system announced Monday that the district would require masks and social distancing from Tuesday, Abbott’s ban notwithstanding.
At a news conference, Dallas schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the school district’s legal advisors assured that Abbott’s order does not limit the district’s rights as an employer and educational institution to establish reasonable and necessary safety rules for its staff and students.
Austin schools announced their mask requirement late Monday.
The superintendent of the Houston school district, the state’s largest, announced last week that the district would require masks and social distancing in the district’s schools effective upon district board approval Thursday. A group of parents sued the Houston Independent School District over the weekend, challenging the requirements.
The rolling two-week daily average of new COVID-19 cases has increased by 165% to 8,533, according to Johns Hopkins University research data. About 45% of the state’s population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.