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Health & Wellness

Dallas County Court Upholds Judge Jenkins’ Mask Mandate

Clay Jenkins.
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News

A Dallas County Court has ruled that Judge Clay Jenkins has the authority to mandate masks and respond to the COVID pandemic at the county-level.

The decision comes a little over a week after the Texas Supreme Court sided with Gov. Greg Abbott on local counties enforcing mask mandates. The Supreme Court ruling still allowed Jenkins and others to have hearings in county courts.

“We are grateful the court recognized that in a local crisis, local responders such as Judge Jenkins are in the best position to decide what is best to protect local citizens,” said trial attorney Charla Aldous.

Jenkins signed an emergency order on Aug. 11 that put mask mandates in place for schools and government buildings, and encouraged people to wear masks in public. He did so following exponential increases in coronavirus cases, especially as many kids returned to school in-person. The emergency order is in defiance of Gov. Abbott’s executive order GA-38, which prevents local officials from imposing mask restrictions.

Earlier this week, Judge Tonya Parker heard arguments from Benjamin Dower, a lawyer with the Texas Attorney General’s Office who represented the governor and state in the hearing, and Jenkins’ legal team.

Dower said the hearing was “an issue of law, not fact,” and witnesses were irrelevant.

“This is a pure question of law,” Dower said. “Does Judge Jenkins and does Dallas County have the authority to impose the mask mandate, contrary to GA-38, or not? The debate about the public policy involving masks is really irrelevant to that central legal question.”

Jenkins’ legal team said they were aiming to prove that there would be “imminent and irreparable harm” to the people of Dallas County if the court doesn’t issue an injunction against Gov. Abbott and executive order GA-38.

Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, gave testimony about the way COVID has spread in Dallas County over the past few months. The number of people in the hospital with COVID “is getting to be as high as we’ve ever seen at any time during the pandemic,” Huang said. He said there are around 25 available ICU beds, for COVID patients and anyone with a major health condition that might require hospitalization.

Melissa Griffith, the mother of two children in Richardson Independent School District, described her fears of sending her immunocompromised daughter to first grade without the certainty everyone would be wearing a mask.

“I’m really worried that she’ll get sick,” Griffith said. “I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.”

With testimony from health experts, Jenkins’ legal team also outlined the way pediatric cases have been increasing in the county, including the lack of pediatric ICU beds.

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Other counties including Bexar and Travis are still in legal battles over precautionary measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, and legal battles at the appellate court and state level are expected to continue.

This story will be updated.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at erivera@kera.org. You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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