Texas Hospitals Are Filling Up With COVID-19 Patients As Gov. Abbott Battles Mask Mandates

The Republican governor has urged residents to get vaccinated as cases spike, but has been criticized for issuing an executive order barring schools and counties from requiring masks.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends a press conference where he signed Senate Bills 2 and 3 at the Capitol on June 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. | Getty Images
Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends a press conference where he signed Senate Bills 2 and 3 at the Capitol on June 8, 2021 in Austin, Texas. | Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is seeking outside help for his state’s overwhelmed hospitals due to the rise in COVID-19 cases less than two weeks after he signed an executive order banning schools from mandating masks.

On Monday, Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association asking the system to postpone voluntary surgeries for the time being to make room for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. Elective procedures include any surgery that “will not result in loss of life or a deterioration in the patient’s condition.” His office also announced the Texas Department of State Health Services would be utilizing out-of-state medical professionals to aid with the growing number of cases.

Texas has seen a steep increase in COVID-19 cases in the past month as the Delta variant rips through the nation. The state has reported nearly 100,000 new cases in the last week alone, including at least 398 deaths, according to John Hopkins University. The Texas Tribune reported at the end of last month that 99% of people in Texas who have died of COVID-19 since February were unvaccinated. About 45% of Texas residents are fully vaccinated.

Unlike some other conservative state leaders, Gov. Abbott has encouraged residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine and has called it “safe and effective.” On Monday he said he has directed state agencies to open up additional vaccination sites, along with antibody infusion centers for COVID-19 patients who don’t require hospitalization but whose conditions are worsening.

Despite his recent mitigation efforts to combat the growing number of cases, Abbott signed an executive order in July banning schools, counties, and cities in Texas from mandating masks. The governor is now facing several lawsuits and pushback from school districts that are defying his orders. Dallas Independent School District and Austin Independent School District are both requiring students and staff to wear masks. Houston ISD is expected to make the same decision this week, the Tribune reported.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said Monday he was filing a temporary restraining order against the mask ban portion of Abbott’s executive order, making it “unenforceable.”

“The enemy is not each other. The enemy is the virus and we must all do all that we can to protect public health,” Jenkins tweeted. “School districts and government closest to the people should make decisions on how best to keep students and others safe.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its mask guidance last month as the Delta variant continued to increase across the country. Despite initially saying vaccinated people could go maskless for the most part, the agency now recommends that everyone wear facial coverings in many indoor settings.

“Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a statement last month. “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.”

Abbott’s ban on mask mandates is similar to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s ban. Both governors have been criticized for their policies against mask-wearing as their states face unprecedented spikes in COVID-19 cases.