Gov. Abbott & Judge Jenkins at Odds Over Covid Mandates

Photo courtesy of fox4news.com

Gov. Abbott signed an executive order on Thursday, July 29th that restricts any agency receiving state funds from enacting mandates that require vaccines or face coverings in response to Covid-19. The order impacts state and local government workers, public health authorities, and schools. Abbott also called on businesses to refrain from enacting “Covid-19-related operating limits.” 

Health agencies immediately decried the order, calling on the Republican governor to side with officials from the CDC who said earlier this week that vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals should return to wearing masks when in indoor public areas. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a press release calling the decision to prevent mandates in Texas a political stunt meant to increase polling numbers in an election year. 

“The Governor’s order is based on polling data of what Republican primary voters want to hear; conversely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations are based on the most recent data regarding the much more contagious Delta variant and what scientists and medical professionals have learned thus far to combat the spread and harm of COVID,” Jenkins said in the statement. 

Earlier this week, Dallas County announced daily confirmed and suspected cases topping 1,000 individuals for the first time since the pandemic began receding in January. The Delta variant has been identified as the most common strain of covid in the North Texas region. Delta is considered to be more contagious, but not more deadly than the previous dominant strain, called Alpha. 

“The new Executive Order emphasizes that the path forward relies on personal responsibility rather than government mandates,” Abbott said. “Texans 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.” 

The competing philosophies come at a time when scientific understanding of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be reexamining some early assumptions about how and why the virus spread as rapidly as it did without spreading everywhere. Writing for the New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote that the spread of the virus is mysterious. He points out that U.S. cases began declining in January before widespread vaccination was ongoing.  

“This spring, caseloads were not consistently higher in parts of the U.S. that had relaxed masking and social distancing measures (like Florida and Texas) than in regions that remained vigilant,” Leonhardt writes.  

Jenkins is concerned that the decision to allow Texans to decide for themselves whether to wear a mask puts people unnecessarily at risk.  

“The Governor’s order restricts school districts from requiring masks, increasing the chance another school year will be ruined for students, while also making it more difficult to stop the spread of COVID and illness for children and their families,” Jenkins said. “School districts and their health advisors are the best source of information for parents regarding education practice. It is my hope that parents will work with school districts to get those eligible students age 12 and up vaccinated, and follow mask-wearing recommendations within buildings.” 

Vaccinations for children under 12 years old — the population believed to be the least at risk of lethal infections — may be eligible for vaccines by the middle of winter. The effectiveness of vaccines on the Delta variant is unknown as the CDC has stopped tracking “breakthrough” cases involving vaccinated people who become infected with and can transmit Covid-19.  

Public Health Agencies throughout Texas and across the nation are asking all adults to get vaccinated as soon as possible in the hope of slowing the spread and reducing deaths from the virus.  

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