Harris County, Texas – Two more Harris County medical institutions, St. Luke’s Health and Texas Children’s Hospital, have announced that they will soon require all personnel to be fully vaccinated. The announcements come at the same time as a mandate from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo that masks must be worn in most childcare centers in the county. All three announcements cited the surge in cases caused by the delta variant as the reason for the changes.
Hidalgo’s mandate applies to all school districts in unincorporated Harris County and all nonreligious private schools, as well as any other type of licensed childcare center. It states that students age two or older, along with staff, teachers and visitors, must wear a mask indoors while on campuses and on buses, regardless of vaccination status.
The two hospitals are the fourth and fifth institutions within Texas Medical Center to require their staff to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. Texas Children’s Hospital announced its mandate on August 11 and set deadlines on September 21 for a first dose and October 19 for a second. St. Luke’s Health’s announcement came on August 12 with a deadline to be fully vaccinated by November 1.
The hospitals employ 13,000 and 11,000 people respectively, with Texas Children’s Hospital being the largest children’s hospital in the country. Both institutions will allow for religious or medical exemptions from the mandate.
As private institutions, the hospitals can impose rules for safety without interference. This stands in contrast to the mandate from Hidalgo’s office, which is in violation of Governor Gregg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting government institutions from requiring masks.
On August 12, the same day as Hidalgo’s press release, Harris County attorneys announced that the county has filed a lawsuit challenging Abbott’s ban. The lawsuit alleges that the executive order exceeds the governor’s authority as laid out in the Texas Disaster Act, which gives the governor broad authority in responding to declared disasters. Dallas, Fort Bend, and Bexar counties have filed similar lawsuits.