Dallas County mask mandate starts Thursday due to COVID-19 Delta variant outbreak

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins quickly issued a mask mandate after Tuesday’s court victory over Gov. Greg Abbott.

However, the governor and the attorney general have already appealed the ruling.

The mask mandate begins Thursday and applies to all childcare centers, Pre-K - 12 public schools, businesses and Dallas County buildings. It would not apply to children under the age of two.

Dallas County businesses could face a $1,000 per day fine for not enforcing the mandate. Individuals cannot be fined or arrested for failing to comply.

While Dallas ISD already had a mask mandate in place, other districts in Dallas County said after the announcement they plan to comply with Jenkins’ order. Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Garland, Grand Prairie, Lancaster and Richardson ISDs all said publicly they will enforce the mandate.

The ruling came after Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins filed a motion for a temporary restraining order along with the attorney for a dozen North Texas parents. They argued the governor overstepped his authority by limiting the actions local officials can take to combat the COVID-19 crisis. A Dallas County judge agreed, issuing the TRO late Tuesday.

"The enemy is the virus," Jenkins said. "And right now, the enemy is winning."

One of those parents was mom Melissa Griffith.

"Virtual learning is not right for her. It requires a one-to-one aide. She’s profoundly physically disabled but cognitively typical," she said.

Griffith said her daughter reads at grade level but is unable to simply unmute herself during virtual classes. 

"I think she deserves a safe environment. As we saw last year, masks work," Griffith said.

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But Jenkins’ order could be short-lived. 

Gov. Abbott announced just hours after the mask mandate was signed that he would challenge it in court.

"The path forward relies on personal responsibility—not government mandates. The State of Texas will continue to vigorously fight the temporary restraining order to protect the rights and freedoms of all Texans," Abbott said in a statement.

SMU Law Professor Eric Cedillo says it is likely the Texas Supreme Court would side with the governor.

"I do believe the Texas Supreme Court will find that the governor has ability to do what he has done. Mask mandates may go away. If the Texas Supreme Court rules that way, it is the end to a mandate," Cedillo said.

Jenkins claimed to be less certain. 

"If I knew what the Supreme Court would do, I would not be your county judge," he said. 

RELATED: Judge grants Dallas County authority to issue mask mandate in defiance of Gov. Abbott's order

Tuesday night in neighboring Tarrant County, the Fort Worth ISD superintendent made masks mandatory. And on Wednesday, so did the Everman and Crowley ISD superintendents.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley would not get into specifics when we asked him if he supported those decisions.

"What I agree with is local control," he said. "And I think that's the way you've got you should be going all of the time."

Whitley says he asked the county district attorney if its legal to do what Dallas County did, but he says his hands are tied. 

"Our DA says you are an agent of the governor. And as such, then you must follow whatever orders he puts out," Whitley said. "And so for me, that makes it pretty cut and dry there."

The Collin County judge says he will not issue an order because he wants to protect individual rights. 

The seven-day average of new cases in North Texas' four most populous counties jumped to nearly 2,500 this week. That's eight times higher than it was one month ago. 

Hospitalizations in the 19-county North Texas region are also up to 2,355 patients. That's up 5% in one day and up 32% from a week ago.

The overwhelming majority of parents FOX4 spoke with while dropping their kids off at school in Mesquite ISD on Wednesday morning, before Jenkins' announcement, said they would be in favor of a mask mandate.

"I definitely hope that they do put a mask mandate in because wearing the masks is important. Because we don’t know who has COVID, who doesn’t have COVID or who doesn’t know they have COVID. And it’s just better protection, especially in an enclosed classroom," said Kahdessa Henderson, a Mesquite ISD parent.


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