Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins Thursday amended his executive order regarding masks to include colleges and universities.
The amended order also revises language regarding masking in businesses, allowing for unmasking by employees if they are alone in their offices.
The original order Jenkins signed Wednesday requires childcare and pre-K through 12 schools to develop and implement a health and safety policy that includes “at a minimum” universal indoor masking for all staff, students, and teachers, regardless of vaccination status, except for children two and younger.
The order has similar requirements for commercial entities. “Failure to develop and implement the Health and Safety Policy required by this Executive Order within three (3) calendar days following the Effective Date may result in a fine not to exceed $1,000 for each violation,” the order reads. “Any peace officer or other person with lawful authority is hereby authorized to enforce the provisions of this Order in accordance with the authority granted under the Texas Disaster Act of 1975.”
Masks are also required in county buildings. Face masks are encouraged for public indoor spaces. There are no civil or criminal penalties if you don’t wear one in public spaces.
The revised order requires institutions of higher learning to also develop a health and safety policy that requires at a minimum masking indoors.
On Wednesday, SMU President R. Gerald Turner announced the school would temporarily require masks in indoor spaces on campus. The requirement doesn’t apply to private spaces like residence halls.
As it stands, four of the most populous counties in Texas have defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting cities, counties and school districts from enacting their own mask mandates. Harris County Thursday became the latest county to enact mandates regarding masking, following Bexar, Travis, and Dallas counties.
Dallas ISD announced Monday that masks would be required, and Monday evening Austin ISD also announced masks would be required. Fort Worth ISD announced Tuesday evening that it will also require masks.
It is expected that the matter will continue to wind its way through the appellate court system. Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the 5th Court of Appeals on Wednesday to overturn State Judge Tonya Parker’s decision that allowed Jenkins’ order.
The mandates follow rising cases of COVID-19 after a more virulent Delta variant became more prevalent. D CEO’s Will Maddox reported Thursday that there are zero staffed pediatric ICU beds in the 19-contiguous counties that comprise Trauma Service Area E, with Children’s Medical Center reporting a patient census that has increased 600% since June 20, when there were just six pediatric COVID patients.
“Now there are 40 children hospitalized with COVID-19 at that system alone,” Maddox reported. “These extreme cases represent more than a fifth of all positive cases the system has identified across its sites of care since August 1.”
Most of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, Maddox reported.
While the vaccine is approved for children 12 and older, thousands of elementary school students will begin reporting to class next week without a vaccine available to them, making masking, health experts say, an imperative.
“We know that masks significantly protect both the person who’s wearing them and the people around them,” said Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center. ”The other benefit of masks is that they can help protect against other viruses. We are seeing an increase in other respiratory viruses that we don’t usually see circulating this time of year, specifically two viruses, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, and parainfluenza virus, which is a virus that causes croup. We will also be getting into influenza season this fall. Masks are effective in preventing the spread of these viruses as well.”
Rajapakse said that the recommendation is that anyone over the age of two wear a mask unless they are unable to remove the mask on their own.