HOUSTON — Harris County can move forward with its mask mandate in schools, daycares and businesses. A Texas third court of appeals in Austin ruled Harris County leaders have the authority to put measures in place to control the spread of COVID-19.
The rule challenges Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates in the state.
Local leaders are calling this a victory for the community, public health and local government but they say the legal battle is far from over.
“If you want to be responsible and require masks, continue requiring masks, unless the Texas Supreme Court rules against this -- and they won't make a ruling for a while -- you’re within your rights to continue with this requirement,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
Governor Abbott's office said Attorney General Ken Paxton is already planning to challenge the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
"The Governor’s executive order remains in full effect until those appeals are resolved, which means local mask mandates are still illegal under Texas law," Abbott's office said in a statement.
Christian Menefee, Harris County attorney, said Abbott doesn’t have the legal authority to ban mask mandates through executive orders.
“What we’ve seen the courts continue to say is that the governor’s power is not unlimited,” Menefee said. “The attorney general’s power is not unlimited.
Judge Hidalgo said this ruling will help save lives as she considers raising the county’s COVID-19 threat level to red.
“The trigger to go to red is when the percentage of ICU cases in our ICUs in Harris County that are COVID positive goes above 20 percent and we have not hit that number yet.”
Judge Hidalgo urges eligible adults and kids 5 and older to get the vaccine or booster to help protect them from the virus.