DALLAS, Texas -- Mask-wearing is now required in Dallas public schools and businesses after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Wednesday became the latest local official to defy Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on local mask orders.
“We are all team public health and the enemy is the virus,” Jenkins said. “Right now, the enemy is winning.”
The move comes a day after a state district judge in Dallas temporarily blocked Abbott’s ability to enforce his executive order prohibiting cities, counties and school districts from requiring residents to wear masks.
Officials in San Antonio and Bexar County won a similar legal battle Tuesday — and quickly ordered school districts to require mask-wearing in schools.
Jenkins went further than other local Texas leaders have in recent weeks. As of 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, all Dallas County public schools, child care centers and businesses must require mask-wearing. However, only businesses will be fined — up to $1,000 — for violating the order, Jenkins said.
The move comes as the highly-contagious delta variant fills Texas hospitals with a crushing wave of COVID-19 patients, the overwhelming majority of them unvaccinated, and as hospitals struggle to find the nurses they need to treat the sick.
Jenkins said mandating masks is an attempt to give some relief to hospitals, but the best way to do that is for more people to get vaccinated.
“We’re trying to buy our hospitals some time by doing everything that we all can do to get through this,” Jenkins said.
Meanwhile, Abbott said Wednesday that more than 2,500 medical workers will be deployed to Texas hospitals to help the increasing number of Covid-19 patients requiring care.
Earlier this week, Abbott ordered the Texas Department of State Health Services to utilize staffing agencies to provide out-of-state medical personnel in response to the recent coronavirus surge.
The new workers will be funded by the state through Sept. 30.
"The State of Texas is taking action to ensure that our hospitals are properly staffed and supported in the fight against Covid-19," Abbott said in a statement. "Texans can help bolster the state's efforts to combat the virus by getting vaccinated. The Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it is our best defense against the virus."
There are currently more than 10,000 people hospitalized for the coronavirus in Texas — an increase of 2,700 over just last week. Hospitalizations are increasing faster than any point in the pandemic. Medical officials in Texas have said most patients being hospitalized are unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, Texas is struggling with historically low staffing levels, with some 23,000 unfilled jobs for registered nurses across the state, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
In July, the state told cities and counties it would not send additional health care workers to aid hospitals with the latest surge of Covid-19 patients, like it had earlier in the pandemic. Instead, state officials said, city and county leaders should dip into $10.5 billion worth of federal stimulus dollars to pay for those workers should hospitals need them. Abbott reversed course on Monday, announcing the Department of State Health Services "will be utilizing staffing agencies to provide medical personnel from out-of-state to Texas health care facilities to assist in COVID-19 operations."