Republican governors drive Delta outbreak with anti-mask laws
The lists in this post are not exhaustive. Unfortunately, there are too many anti-mask and anti-vaccine stories to cover in one go.
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are continuing their fight to ban mask mandates in the state, after numerous court losses. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court declined to block restraining orders against the mask mandate ban, sending the case to the 3rd Texas Court of Appeal in Austin for a hearing. The bench is made up of four Democrats and two Republicans. However, any determination reached by the intermediate court is likely to be appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, anyway, which is made up entirely of Republicans.
- Eight counties and 58 school districts have imposed masking and social distancing requirements in defiance of Abbott’s order.
- As of Thursday, 235 pediatric patients were in hospitals across the state, surpassing the previous peak of 163 on Dec. 24.
Meanwhile, a disability advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in public schools. Disability Rights Texas, which brought the suit on behalf of 14 medically at-risk children, argues that the order violates the antidiscrimination Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education.
“Under Gov. Abbott’s order, parents of these children face an untenable choice: educate their children at school and expose them to potential severe illness, long COVID, and even death or keep their children home, where they will receive a fraction of their education in one of the least integrated settings available with limited to no exposure to non-disabled peers,” said Tom Melsheimer, attorney from Winston & Strawn. “Either outcome is a violation of students’ rights under the ADA and Section 504, and both are wholly avoidable.”
Abbott’s intense opposition to common sense Covid safety measures didn’t wane despite catching the disease himself this week. The Governor’s office released the following statement on Tuesday:
Governor Greg Abbott today tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The Governor has been testing daily, and today was the first positive test result. Governor Abbott is in constant communication with his staff, agency heads, and government officials to ensure that state government continues to operate smoothly and efficiently. The Governor will isolate in the Governor’s Mansion and continue to test daily. Governor Abbott is receiving Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody treatment. Governor Abbott is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in good health, and currently experiencing no symptoms.
Abbott’s spokesperson did not explain why he was receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment despite having no symptoms. Regeneron is provided free of charge to patients with a doctor’s referral but otherwise costs over $1,000 per treatment, with some reports pegging it at $2,100 a dose (the Covid vaccine, by contrast, costs about $25).
Many Covid patients cannot get a doctor’s referral, however. The FDA approved an emergency authorization to use Regeneron only for people with mild to moderate Covid cases who are at a high risk of becoming seriously ill. Without symptoms, Abbott would not qualify.
The day before announcing his positive test result, Abbott spoke at a sold-out dinner hosted by the Heritage Ranch Republican Club just northeast of Dallas. Videos show a maskless Abbott in a large crowd of people, posing for pictures.
In addition to receiving daily Covid tests – something the vast majority of Americans do not have access to – Abbott reportedly told friends that he received a third booster dose of an unidentified vaccine.
After incorrectly blaming immigrants for the Covid surge, Texas Republicans are now pointing the finger at Black people. On Thursday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick falsely claimed that African Americans are the “biggest group” of unvaccinated people in the U.S (video). He further tried to say that it’s not his problem because most don’t vote for his party:
Patrick: “The Covid is spreading, particularly, most of the numbers are with the unvaccinated and the Democrats like to blame Republicans on that. Well, the biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated. The last time I checked over 90 percent of them vote for Democrats… They’re doing nothing for the African American community that has a significant, high number of unvaccinated people. So they need to address that.”
Fact check: White adults account for the largest share of unvaccinated adults.
- While preventing communities from taking mitigation measures, Abbott requested out-of-state assistance in staffing healthcare clinics and hospitals.
- The Texas Dept. of Health requested five mortuary trailers from the federal government in anticipation of a surge in Covid deaths overwhelming the mortuary system.
A lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over his ban on mask mandates in schools will continue after a judge denied the governor’s motion to dismiss the case on Thursday. Numerous families have filed suit against the state, arguing that DeSantis’ ban undermines their right to send their kids to “safe, secure” public schools.
The Leon County judge on Thursday found that the plaintiffs have standing to sue after sufficiently pleading a link between the governor’s action and an increased risk of contracting Covid-19. The judge made note of the high transmissibility of the coronavirus delta variant, while pointing out that some of the plaintiffs’ children are under 12 years old and therefore ineligible for vaccination.
Another group of parents sued DeSantis in federal court, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public education.
By refusing to allow school districts to implement mask mandates, Governor DeSantis has placed an illegal barrier for students with disabilities which is preventing our state’s most vulnerable students from returning to public schools… By its actions and inactions, the Governor and the State are forcing children out of the public school system.
The Florida Department of Education said on Friday that school districts have 48 hours to comply with DeSantis’ mask mandate ban or face sanctions. Earlier this month, the Broward County School Board voted 8-1 to keep their mask requirement in place for all students and staff. Alachua County, Hillsborough County, and Miami-Dade County school boards joined Broward in defying DeSantis last week.
“Wearing masks inside schools regardless of vaccine status is required to deal with the changing realities of virus transmission. It is a necessary precaution until children under 12 can receive a COVID-19 vaccination and more Americans 12 and older get vaccinated,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said in a statement following the vote.
Local school boards that keep their mask mandates in place will lose a portion of their funding, according to the state’s Dept. of Education. Furthermore, DeSantis’ administration has threatened to remove school officers who continue mask requirements. The Biden administration stepped in to offer to pay any salaries that are cut due to DeSantis’ order.
The Covid surge in Florida has gotten so bad that Orlando is asking residents to cut back on water usage because of a pandemic-triggered shortage of liquid oxygen used to purify water. A surge in hospitalized patients in the state is creating “a regional shortage of liquid oxygen,” the Orlando Utilities Commission announced Friday.
- Just as in Texas, DeSantis requested outside assistance while prohibiting localities from mitigating the pandemic’s spread.
- Florida doctors are now tracking two additional variants in the state: Lambda, which may be more resistant to vaccines, and the B.1.621 variant.
Alabama officials are recommending masks in schools, but Governor Kay Ivey (R) has refused to issue a state mandate.
The Alabama Public Health Dept. requested federal aid and FEMA staff to help keep hospitals running.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) redirected federal funds to create a $163 million grant program for schools that forego mask mandates and stay open for in-person learning all year long. Not only will this incentivize schools to maintain unsafe conditions during an outbreak, but it may be against federal law.
“The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and the Treasury Department are backing up Congressman Raul Grijalva’s opinion that Governor Ducey may be breaking the law with his plan to stop school districts from imposing mask mandates,” reported Craig Smith. “Treasury says if he doesn’t reverse course the Federal Government may force Arizona to give back the grant money.”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed an executive order on Thursday prohibited local officials from issuing mask-mandates and social distancing rules.
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) criticized the Hulbert Board of Education for voting to require masks for students and staff in defiance of a state law. “To be clear, no parent is banned from sending their child to school with a mask and no school may mandate masks or vaccines,” Stitt said.
The Oklahoma State Medical Association and several parents are suing to allow schools to impose mask mandates.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) refused to issue a statewide mask mandate for schools, despite the recent death of an eighth-grader. “If you look at those individuals under the age of 12, what you find is that it is very rare that kids under the age of 12 have anything other than the sniffles,” Reeves said, adding, “I pray for them every single day.”
Mississippi’s top health official ordered all residents who test positive for Covid to quarantine for 10 days or face fines and possible jail time.
The same health official, Thomas Dobbs, had to publicly plead with residents not to take horse dewormer to treat or prevent Covid. At least one person was hospitalized after taking a dewormer called ivermectin. “There are potential toxicities. So it’s something, you know, as you know, I think some people are trying to use it as a preventative, which I think is really kind of crazy. So please don’t do that,” Dobbs said.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) refused to take the advice of over 5,500 medical experts to repeal his executive order allowing parents to opt-out of mask requirements for their kids.