Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced he was reinstating a mask mandate in all county buildings, including public schools—defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order that prohibits local government entities from issuing mask mandates—during an Aug. 11 news conference. (Courtesy Pexels)
Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced he was reinstating a mask mandate in all county buildings, including public schools—defying Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order, which in part prohibits local government entities from issuing mask mandates.
“We are taking this action to stand up and do the right thing to protect our children, our educators, our employees and all members of our community,” George said at an Aug. 11 news conference.
This action comes on the first day of school in Fort Bend ISD. George said it was “heartbreaking” that students returned to the classroom without all of the necessary health and safety protocols. The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all individuals, regardless of their vaccination status, wear masks in K-12 schools.
To this end, County Attorney Bridgette Smith-Lawson said the county has filed a lawsuit against Abbott’s executive order, GA-38.
The county also requested a temporary restraining order, which was signed by a district court judge. Smith-Lawson said this will restore the county’s ability to implement a mask mandate locally.
The county’s lawsuit asks the court to evaluate the governor’s authority versus the authority of local governments, she said.
“Following GA-38 would have had local officials here in Fort Bend County ignoring the virus,” she said. “We would be required to ignore mask mandates, which are recommended by medical professionals in stopping the virus. We can not sit idly by and ignore the medical professionals to comply with GA-38.”
Additionally, the county raised its coronavirus threat level from orange—or moderate-to-significant community risk—to red, which is high community risk.
Dr. Jacquelyn Minter, director of Fort Bend County Health & Human Services said the county has seen “sustained and substantial” COVID-19 case increases over the past month. An average of 300 new cases were confirmed each day last week, and Minter said that number is expected to increase this week.
Posted Aug. 11, 4:32 p.m.
Fort Bend County commissioners in a 3-2 vote Aug. 11 authorized County Attorney Bridgette Smith-Lawson to file a lawsuit challenging Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order restricting cities, counties and school districts from implementing mask mandates.
In his motion, Commissioner Grady Prestage said the county will be challenging the executive order on the basis that it exceeds Abbott’s authority to suspend laws under the Texas Disaster Act of 1973 or violates the suspension and separation of powers clause of Texas Constitution.
“We feel that certain actions taken under this order have exceeded his authority,” First Assistant County Attorney Marcus Spencer said at the Aug. 11 special meeting. “We’re simply wanting to take it to a court to have a court decide whether those actions were actually legally authorized or not.”
Prestage, Commissioner Ken DeMerchant and County Judge KP George voted in favor of the motion, while commissioners Andy Meyers and Vincent Morales voted against the motion.
This action comes as new cases of the coronavirus continue to increase in Fort Bend County—causing the county to raise its COVID-19 threat level—and as students in Fort Bend ISD returned for the first day of school Aug. 11.
Harris County gave similar authorization to its county attorney yesterday.
George announced he would be holding a 5 p.m. update on the county’s emergency response to COVID-19. This story will be updated.