AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations among students climb, a group of Texas physicians is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to reverse his decision to ban COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates in schools. They’re also asking state legislators to side with them as the issue is discussed in special session.

In a news briefing Thursday, three physicians, who are all members of the Committee to Protect Health Care, talked about how desperate Texas hospitals are and pointed to a rise in case numbers tied to schools statewide, which they say could be helped if schools could mandate vaccines and masks.

The Committee to Protect Health Care was initially a Facebook group created to oppose some of President Donald Trump’s policies on health care and has since grown to an organization that addresses a wide range of health care issues. The group has historically opposed Republican-backed measures related to health.

“The danger of these policies to people’s health and safety could not be clearer,” Dr. Erin Amjadi, an internal medicine physician practicing in Austin, said of Abbott’s mandates. Amjadi said more than 20,000 COVID-19 cases have been tied to Texas schools since August 2.

“Our kids are being put directly in harms way,” she said.

As of this week, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is now providing hospital and capacity numbers broken down into adult and pediatric categories, which gives us a better idea of how many people in our hospitals are school-aged. As of Thursday’s update, there are 282 kids in Texas hospitals with COVID-19.

There are 81 available staffed pediatric ICU beds across the entire state of Texas, according to DSHS’ dashboard.

“After 18 months of this COVID pandemic, I’m amazed where we are as a state,” Dr. David Portugal, a cardiologist near Houston, said.

Abbott’s office responded, saying it strongly encourages all eligible Texans get vaccinated.

“Texans have learned and mastered over the past year the safe practices to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID, and do not need the government to tell them how to do so,” Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary, said in a written response to KXAN. “Every Texan has a right to choose for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses, or get vaccinated.”

Eze also pointed to the growing number of eligible Texans who have recently gotten their vaccine and enhanced safety precautions in school districts. She also said the governor is in regular contact with state doctors, DSHS and TDEM to “get shots in arms and provide support to communities across the state.”

Austin-area data

That DSHS dashboard also provides pediatric data broken down by trauma service area (TSA). In the 11-county region Austin is within, there are 11 pediatric COVID-19 cases in hospitals and only two available pediatric ICU beds.

While KXAN has confirmed the numbers listed in this article are accurate with DSHS, it should be noted the DSHS dashboard had inaccurate numbers listed for regional pediatric ICU capacity this week. DSHS says staff didn’t switch from a template file to real data when they split pediatric and adult hospitalization numbers. They have since pulled those inaccurate numbers down and updated their dashboard with real data.

Dr. Desmar Walkes, the local health authority, confirmed Tuesday there was a COVID-19 pediatric death reported last weekend, the area’s first. That child was vaccinated, according to APH, and had underlying health conditions. They had been on a ventilator for roughly a month.

APH has said during every briefing vaccines are still the best protection against the virus.

Since the beginning of July, 108 people under the age of 18 have been admitted into area hospitals with COVID-19, 33 in the ICU.

“Just in the last week in Travis County we had 817 cases with 17,240 close contacts identified,” Walkes said of case numbers in schools. There have been 67 clusters identified in Travis County school districts since the beginning of the school year, she reported.