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Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, whose statewide ban on mask mandates has drawn federal criticism — and in some Covid-stricken areas, fury — is taking his battle against one of the country’s most basic pandemic precautions to the state’s highest court.
Late on Friday, after Mr. Abbott’s ban suffered at least three legal setbacks, the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, said he was asking the State Supreme Court to consider Mr. Abbott’s policies. “The rule of law will decide,” he wrote in a tweet.
The escalating battle comes as schools around the country prepare to open for the fall semester, with tens of millions of children under 12 ineligible for vaccination and as hospitalizations of young people have been increasing amid the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Partisan tensions have been rising over whether students, teachers and school staff members should be required to wear masks. Some Republicans have cast mask rules as an infringement on parental rights, while many Democrats hold that they are a matter of public health.
Mr. Abbott has faced a series of legal challenges and defiant local mask mandates since he signed an executive order in July barring mandates for both masks and vaccinations.
The order came two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance to urge much more widespread masking, acting on new data that showed fully vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant — a situation the agency considers comparatively rare — could spread the virus as easily as unvaccinated people.
The setbacks for Mr. Abbott on Friday were in areas Democratic leaders, rampant coronavirus cases and rising hospitalizations. Vaccinations in Texas lag many other states, and deaths are also rising, though far more slowly than in prior waves, given that the majority of the oldest and most vulnerable residents are now fully vaccinated.
A state district judge gave Harris County and several school districts across the state temporary permission to put in effect safety measures, including mask mandates.
Scores of Texas counties have recorded even higher rates of new cases and hospitalizations than those involved in the rulings.
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Mr. Abbott came under sharp federal criticism on Friday, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who banned school mask mandates a day after Mr. Abbott issued his executive order.
The secretary of education, Miguel Cardona, sent letters to the governors and their education commissioners, writing that he was concerned about recent executive actions taken by both governors.
Those orders, he wrote, prohibited districts from “voluntarily adopting science-based strategies for preventing the spread of Covid-19 that are aligned with the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” like universal masking. The letters were made public late Friday.
Dr. Cardona also expressed support for districts in both states that have defied the governors’ orders.
“The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” he wrote.