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Judge allows Austin-area mask order to continue 2 more weeks

March 12, 2021 GMT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Austin and Travis County will continue to require masks to be worn in public for at least two more weeks after a judge put off a ruling on the state’s challenge of that mandate until a hearing later this month.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the city and county Thursday, asking a judge to force the city and county to comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that lifted the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, including a requirement that masks be worn in public.

On Friday, though, state District Judge Lora Livingston denied Paxton’s request for a temporary restraining order and scheduled the March 26 hearing on his request for a temporary injunction. Livingston said the state had given the local officials insufficient time to prepare their case.

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A message seeking comment from Paxton’s office was not returned Friday.

In a statement, the City of Austin said it appreciated Livingston’s ruling and said it continued to rely on the city-county health authority “and other medical experts in the community, who are asking people to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing, and maintain hand hygiene.

“This is a public health decision. Our city employees have been working for a full year on COVID-19 emergency measures, and we do not want to backslide into yet another surge.”

State health officials on Friday reported a dramatic jump in the number of new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases to 6,078, more than 2,000 more than Thursday. That pushed the Texas pandemic total to 2,710,086, with an estimated 121,115 of those cases active, 767 fewer than Thursday. There were 4,229 Texas COVID-19 sufferers hospitalized Thursday, the most recent total available in the state and 177 fewer patients than Wednesday.

According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, the 212 new COVID-19 deaths the state reported Friday brought the state’s pandemic death toll to 46,043. There were 290.3 new cases per 100,000 people in Texas over the past two weeks, which ranks ninth in the country for new cases per capita, according to the researchers. Still, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by 2,564 over the past two weeks, a decrease of 35.5%.