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Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Challenges Gov. Abbott's Mask Mandate Ban

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins
Christopher Connelly

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott's mask mandate ban.

Late Monday, Jenkins asked a judge to block Abbott from enforcing his executive order that prohibits local governments from requiring masks. Jenkins also wants to confirm he has the authority to take steps to respond to the pandemic, including requiring face coverings.

Jenkins says he thinks the governor's order is unenforceable.

"In this situation, the governor is choosing to not respond to an emergency like a lifeguard that is choosing to not save a life but he's stopping everyone from doing as well,” Jenkins told WFAA-TV.

Jenkins also praised the Dallas Independent School District forrequiring masks in defiance of Abbott's orders.

The Dallas Morning News reportsthe counterclaim is in response to County Commissioner J.J. Koch's lawsuit over a mask mandate at Commissioners Court meetings. Koch was asked to leave last week's meeting for refusing to wear a mask.

Parents of 12 Dallas County children have also joined the lawsuit, according to the Morning News.

Cases of the delta variant of coronavirus have soared nationally and local hospital emergency departments have become overrun with patients.

Jenkins said he was concerned about the exponential increases in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks.

“The stakes are high for public health, for our community, and for our children,” Jenkins said. “COVID is growing at an unprecedented rate.”

The Dallas county judge cited the more contagious delta variant as the reason for increased spread, as well as lagging vaccination rates. He said 59% of the population, including kids going back to school, do not have vaccine protection.

Jenkins and Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Philip Huang expressed the fact the county could see more coronavirus cases if kids return to school unvaccinated and without masks.

Over the past three days, the county saw 3,270 new coronavirus cases, with 682 people hospitalized in Dallas County due to the virus yesterday. This case increase is putting a strain on hospitals, where there are only 14 available ICU beds in the county as of yesterday.

Huang said more than 90% of people hospitalized right now are unvaccinated.

“This is heartbreaking,” Huang said. “This is preventable. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, please do. It is safe. It’s effective.”

“Thankfully we can say the vaccine is doing its job, but for our residents that are unvaccinated, this variant and this situation is deadly,” Jenkins said. “Our health care workers are overworked, exhausted and short-staffed.”

He also encourages people to follow the new CDC guidelines stating those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors if their communities are experiencing substantial or high case numbers, “which at this point includes basically all of Texas, certainly all North Texas.”

Jenkins said he’s not trying “to return to where we were in March of 2020,” but rather use all the tools available to slow the spread.

“I'm seeking to do all that I can to make sure that our children are wearing a mask when they go to school, to make sure that your fellow shoppers are wearing a mask when you're at the store, so that we have our best chance of not getting COVID when we leave our home.".

Gov. Abbott 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 has begun 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.

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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.
Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.