Health official issues mask mandate for schools

Counties: Cover up

Jodie Bulnes wears a masks as McAllen ISD distributed Chomebooks at Cathey Middle School on Friday, Aug 14, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])


Officials from Hidalgo and Starr counties issued mask mandates for schools Friday on the heels of an uprising against Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on those mandates by over half a dozen Rio Grande Valley districts.

Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez issued a mask mandate for schools Friday following an uprising by several Valley school districts Thursday.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera signed a similar order later in the day.

Melendez’s order mandates that students, staff and visitors to all public and private schools from kindergarten through 12th grade must wear facial coverings while inside schools — regardless of vaccination status.

However, school districts may opt out of the mandate if their respective school board votes to do so, a news release from the county said Friday.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez commended Melendez for his recommendation in the release, saying he has consistently aligned his actions regarding the pandemic with science.

“We are seeing dramatic increases in the number of pediatric patients being admitted into our hospitals because of this disease and I support every effort to keep our children safe,” Cortez said.

Pediatric patients, or those under age 19, accounted for 10% of COVID-19 patients in Hidalgo County hospitals this week, Melendez said in the release.

The order comes days before in-person instruction is expected to begin across the region, and as virus-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase. On Friday, Hidalgo County reported nine deaths and 524 new cases.

It also follows a meeting between county officials and area school superintendents, the release said. It’s unclear when officials met, but on Thursday several school boards across the Valley voted to file a lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbot’s ban on mask mandates and issued their own rules on masks.

Melendez’s order does make some exceptions, including anyone under age 2; anyone who is consuming drinks or food; anyone exercising outdoors; and anyone with medical conditions.

Additionally, the order recommends physical distancing of at least 3 feet between students in a classroom.

The order is effective immediately and remains in effect for nine weeks — unless a school’s governing body votes to opt out.

School districts began reacting to the order Friday afternoon.

“We greatly appreciate the support of our county officials in giving us this added tool in protecting our students and employees,” Mission CISD Superintendent Carol G. Perez wrote in a statement that said the district would abide by the county’s order. “The use of masks is proven to help control the spread of COVID-19, and this is especially important to all of our families with students who are not old enough to get vaccinated yet.”

Two district’s held an emergency meeting Friday evening to discuss the county’s directive.

Trustees of the Weslaco school board voted unanimously to adhere to the mandate and spent some time discussing how the district will implement it.

Sharyland trustees also voted to adhere to the order, although not unanimously.

Trustee Alejandro Rodriguez was the sole trustee to vote against doing so.

IDEA Public Schools also issued a news release Friday stating its schools in the area would follow Hidalgo County’s mask mandate.

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