As High School Football Returns, Covid-19 Restrictions Loom

Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Nearly two weeks ago, Gov. Greg Abbott, acting on emergency powers granted to him by the legislature, issued an executive order that would bar agencies receiving state funding from enacting policies that require face coverings or proof of vaccination, a measure widely criticized for partisan leanings in an election year.

District judges in Dallas County and Bexar County both found issues with the order, declaring it unenforceable. Judge Clay Jenkins, the primary official responsible for the Covid-19 response in Dallas County and one of the premier officials providing public information immediately took action to overturn the executive order.

Within minutes of the decision to overturn Gov. Abbott’s order, several of the largest school districts implemented policies requiring that all students over the age of two years wear masks while attending classes.

On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Judge Jenkins signed an order to enact policies repeatable throughout the state of Texas. In effect, the order requires that all persons aged two years or more wear face coverings indoors among members of the public. Businesses and government agencies are now required to mandate face coverings and other protective measures. Additional measures may include temperature checks and health screenings to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.

The largest change from efforts of a year ago is that there will be no civil or criminal penalties for violating the order. In effect, the order does little more than provide guidance to school districts, government offices, and businesses grappling with the reality of doing business in these uncertain times.

The discord between the governor’s office and the pre-eminent judge handling the legality of government interference in social life revolves around a simple fact: Covid-19 Delta variant cases are dominating the ever-increasing number of hospitalizations and deaths associated with the virus.

Abbott’s office said that the restrictions pursued by the courts negate the ability of Texans to think for themselves and make decisions in their own best interest. The courts view the position the Governor’s office has taken as hostile and ill-informed about the threat facing residents of the nation’s second-largest state.

One of the independent school districts to act quickly following the overturn of Gov. Abbott’s order was Fort Worth ISD.

“FWISD strongly recommends vaccinations for all eligible individuals. We post vaccination locations for all to see,” said Clint Bond, executive director of emergency communications for the FWISD. “It remains a personal, or a parental, decision regarding vaccinations. After the superintendent’s announcement last evening we are requiring all students, staff, and district visitors to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.”

Judge Jenkins said that, at least for now, outdoor football practices will be unaffected by the order. All indoor training, film study, and discussion will fall within the restrictions implemented by the order Jenkins signed Wednesday, including the requirement that all student athletes wear masks indoors.

“This is not the parents vs. Judge Clay Jenkins vs. Gov. Abbott or the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated; this is all of us. We are all Team Public Health,” Jenkins said in a Zoom meeting Wednesday. “It was never imagined in Texas law that the governor would take over and try to micromanage a local emergency. Right now, the enemy has transformed itself into the Delta variant.”

Jenkins, along with many public health officials in Texas, asks that everyone who is eligible for vaccination get the shot.

High school classes across the state are due to resume normal education in the coming weeks. Bond said via email on Wednesday that classes in the FWISD begin on August 26 and will be held in person with a requirement that all students wear masks.

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