The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday blocked mask mandates ordered by two of the nation's largest counties that defied Republican Gov. Greg Abbott as COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals are stretched thin.
The order by the state's highest court — which is entirely comprised of elected Republican justices — halts mask requirements that county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio put in place as new infections soar and students begin returning to school. Texas reported more than 11,500 patients hospitalized with the virus Sunday, the most since January.
The ruling is temporary pending a court hearing, though a final ruling could take weeks. Officials in Houston and Austin, as well as public school districts, had also imposed mask mandates despite Abbott prohibiting local governments from reverting back to pandemic restrictions.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said last week that Texas and Florida accounted for nearly 40% of new virus hospitalizations nationwide.
The COVID-19 death toll has started soaring again as the delta variant tears through the nation's unvaccinated population and fills up hospitals with patients, many of whom are younger than during earlier phases of the pandemic.