Gov. Abbott: Health Officials Cannot Close Schools to Prevent COVID-19

The back-and-forth between Austin and Harris County continues over who has the power to open or close local schools. Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday sided with his attorney general in saying local health officials do not have the authority to preemptively close schools over COVID-19, or any other public health issue.

"Before the COVID pandemic occurred last January, there were some schools that were closed because of an outbreak of flu," Abbott told KENS in San Antonio. "The local public health authorities still have that same ability, they just can't make that declaration three months in advance."

The governor is still allowing schools to remain virtual for up to eight weeks, but they'll need a waiver to stay closed beyond that.

"After that eight-week time period, local schools can seek waivers from TEA to continue remote learning if that is the only safe way forward."

As expected, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo was not happy with the governor's opinion.

"This decision does not only put at-risk the lives of children and the health of children, but the lives and health of their parents and their teachers," she said. "The entire community is going to be at-risk because of this."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is standing by Judge Hidalgo and local health officials.

"With all do resprect, there is no way under the sun I would allow even my child to go to a school if these numbers are the same or greater by the end of August," Turner said Friday.

Houston-Harris County is reporting more than 31,000 active COVID-19 cases, along with 760 total deaths. Texas so far has recorded more than 425,000 total positive cases of COVID-19, along with 6,400 deaths.