Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County officials address governor’s executive order, give update on local coronavirus situation

Stephens County officials address governor’s executive order, give update on local coronavirus situation
June 28
17:12 2020

Almost three weeks after the Stephens County Commissioners passed a resolution opening up local businesses 100 percent, the bars have been forced to re-close, following an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday morning, June 26, in response to the continued COVID-19 pandemic. However, local law enforcement officials say they will not enforce the governor’s orders.

The local situation was the focus of a previously scheduled public update on Friday afternoon by Stephens County Judge Michael Roach and local law enforcement and health officials. The event was broadcast live from the Stephens County Courthouse on local radio station KLXK 93.5 and live-streamed on the County’s Facebook page. Click here to see the video on Facebook.

The officials provided county residents with an update on the COVID-19 situation in Stephens County and Breckenridge, and recommend preventative measures to help prevent the spread of the virus in the county. On June 8, Roach and the Stephens County Commissioners passed a resolution supporting the opening up of local businesses to 100 percent, although the governor had not yet issued such as statewide order.

On Friday morning, Gov. Abbott reversed his decision on some of his earlier re-opening orders. In the Friday afternoon update, the Stephens County officials discussed the local implications of the new executive order that places limits on certain business and services and explained how the county would respond to enforcing the measures.

During his opening remarks, Roach said there has been a significant rise in COVID-19 cases including places close to Breckenridge such as Graham and Stephenville, which he said had seen 80 new cases in two and half days. However, he said, there has not been a significant increase in cases in Breckenridge and Stephens County.

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach, center, addresses the community in an update that was broadcast on KLXK radio and live-streamed on Facebook on Friday afternoon. Other local officials, including Sheriff Will Holt and Police Chief Bacel Cantrell, joined Roach for the update. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

“One thing we have not seen yet locally has been an increase in activity in our emergency room or healthcare clinics in regards to folks who are symptomatic with COVID-19-like symptoms,” he said. “With that, we are pretty blessed. We don’t want to throw caution to the wind. But also we want to have a balance where we protect our health, but also go on with our daily lives.”

Roach acknowledged that COVID-19 is real and can be a serious threat to some people’s health.

“Do we believe COVID-19 is real? Absolutely,” he said. “Can it overwhelm our community? …it has that potential, and we’ve seen it happen in other communities. So we’re not denying COVID-19 can be a real, serious threat to your health.”

He said the County has tried all along to reach some kind of healthy balance between the survival of the local economy which is very important, and also public health.

“But, I don’t think, and I believe this from the bottom of my heart, I don’t think you have to sacrifice the economy and go overboard,” he said. “I think you can have a robust and strong public health effort and also keep businesses alive. That has its own mental health consequences, as well. I think we can do both. … and let you make up your own mind how to best manage your health.”

Governor’s New Executive Order

Regarding the governor’s latest executive order, Roach said that as a county government Stephens County will not enforce the order. However, he said, there are parts of the order that pertain to bars and restaurants that could be subject to enforcement by the Texas Alcohol and Tobacco (TABC) and the Texas Health Department.

According to a news release, the Gov. Abbott ordered:

  • All bars and similar establishments that receive more than 51 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages were required to close at noon Friday, June 26. Those businesses may remain open for delivery and take-out, including for alcoholic beverages, as authorized by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
  • Rafting and tubing businesses must close.
  • Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people must be approved by local government, with certain exceptions.

Additionally, the order states that all businesses, except for a few exemptions, are to operate at 50 percent capacity. That includes restaurants. However, the order also allows that businesses in those counties which were previously approved for higher occupancy levels due to low instances of COVID-19 may operate at 75 percent occupancy. Stephens County has that exemption.

The occupancy limits do not apply to churches, government operations, child care services, youth camps, recreational sports programs and those businesses that are listed on the federal government’s essential workforce list.

Click the following link to see the complete executive order by Gov. Abbott:  TexasGovExecutiveOrderJune262020

Roach said a lot of the local business owners have done a good job of balancing the survival of their business with public health and have been successful at keeping the cases down in Stephens County.

“And the reason I say we have been successful at that thus far, is because we’ve keep our ear tuned to hospital and clinics and we’ve not seen that spike in cases as other communities have,” he said.

However, Roach cautioned, based on what he’s seen happen across the state of Texas, he believes there could eventually be a spike locally.

“And, as the doctors that we listen to here and the data, as that changes here locally, we keep our ears tuned to that, keep our fingers on the pulse, so to speak, and make those adjustments when they are necessary,” he said.

He also said that there are still a lot of options available in the community to help out residents who are in a high-risk category. For example, he said, there are special hours at the courthouse for those individuals and Walmart and United still have special hours for seniors to shop.

“If you are battling something like cancer…and you need a special appointment for an office here at the courthouse. we’ll accommodate you,” he said. “You’ll be the only one here, and we’ll make sure that your safety and your health is paramount to us, and we want you to know that.”

Enforcement

Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt echoed the County Judges comments and said the Sheriff’s Office will not enforce the executive order.

“In regards to the order that came out today, the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office will not be enforcing any aspects of the order,” Holt said on Friday afternoon. “As the county judge mentioned, there are some state mechanisms for enforcement through TABC and the Department of Health for restaurants and bars. That’s up to them if they want to come to this community and enforce that.”

The governor’s executive order specifies that failure to comply with the order is an offense punishable by a fine up to $1,000, as well as regulatory enforcement. Additionally, the order provides that local officials may enforce the executive order as well as local restrictions that are consistent with the executive order.

Holt went on to encourage local citizens to stay open if they need to in order to survive or thrive.

“On the same token, while we say we’re not enforcing the order, I do personally want to encourage all churches, organizations, businesses, individual families to invoke, continue to exercising or start exercising again all the precautions related to sanitation and prevention of spreading the virus that you’ll hear from the medical staff here,” Holt said. “This a great time for us as a community to exercise individual liberty by staying open and helping preserve and maintain our economy, but also doing the right thing from a personal responsibility standpoint or a business responsibility standpoint by implementing social distancing where you can.

“Again, we’re not going to come check on that and make you do it,” the sheriff continued. “But in the type of country and economic system that we have, there are such things as personal and business responsibilities. So, we just ask and encourage that you incorporate those how you see fit for your business and for your personal life. And, I think that will get us where we need to by preserving the economy and not trampling on individual liberties, but also adhering to personal responsibility, which is incumbent upon every one of us in this room and everyone in the community, whether that’s personal responsibility or business responsibility.”

However, Holt said, the Sheriff’s Office will be enforcing traditional laws. For example he said if somebody is at a local business causing a breach of the peace or disorderly conduct or they’re trying violate a business’ policies, the Sheriff’s Office will stand by those businesses.

He also said that if somebody knows they have the virus and they’re out in the public negligently, recklessly or knowingly spreading the virus, they can face criminal charges.

Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell said he was taking a similar stance on enforcement as the sheriff.

“We’re not going to go to businesses and check those occupies or any of that stuff,” Cantrell said. “They’ve got their own responsibility to do that. Our community, I think, set a great example early on making sure all that was done. I think we’re moving forward, in good shape.”

Stephens County Attorney Gary Trammel said he thinks the order is a result of the problems in larger cities in the state, where people are crowding into restaurants and bars and not doing social distancing or following any of the rules or recommendations from the governor’s office.

“It’s really not aimed at small, country, rural areas, where we’ve been fighting it and doing the best we can,” Trammel said. “I really don’t think it’s going to be that big a deal, but is does fall with whoever the person is that comes out from whatever licensing and regulation department that may be associated with your business.”

He said, as far as the County Attorney’s office is concerned, they will not be filing a case against local businesses or individuals for violations of the order unless it’s a violation of the Texas Penal Code. According to the Texas Government Code, executive orders, proclamations, and regulations issued by the governor have the force and effect of law.

During the update session Friday afternoon, Trammel confirmed that a business could be at risk of having a lawsuit filed against them if they don’t follow the Governor’s order and a customer becomes infected with COVID-19.

“You know I tell people this all the time, anybody can sue anybody, at anytime for anything. Doesn’t mean they’re going to win” he said. “But, yes, that’s a possibility. …if you don’t follow some guidelines, or you are reckless about how you run your business, you’re always open to a type of a (civil) lawsuit.”

However, he said he wasn’t aware of any lawsuits like that being filed, especially in this area, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some in the future.

“I know as of a few days ago, I don’t know what the current numbers are, there were 17 suspensions across the Texas for TABC,” Roach said. “And those were folks who were violating no social distancing, crowding in, no hand sanitizer, folks sitting at the bar. All those violations, they violated every rule. And so that’s who my understanding the TABC really penalized. So keep doing what you’re doing; let’s be safe.”

Medical update from Stephens Memorial Hospital

Following the law enforcement portion of the update, Stephens Memorial Hospital’s Dr. Kelli Windsor gave an overview of the coronavius situation in Stephens County and Breckenridge. She said the number of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding areas has been going up over the past week or two and appears to have spiked during the past week.

There are currently two local active cases in Stephens County and since the pandemic started there have been a total of seven cases confirmed. She said the two active cases are not her patients and she didn’t have a lot of details, but as far as she knew they didn’t have any symptoms and were doing fine at this time.

Dr. Windsor said of the local patients who have tested positive, only one required hospitalization and they were treated at Stephens Memorial Hospital.

“We know that here in Breckenridge, we are very thankful, we are so far spared from (a spike in cases), but we want to keep it that way because we don’t have a very big hospital,” she said. “We don’t have very many medical providers, and it would just be very easy for us to get overwhelmed.”

She said one of the local goals is to not have anybody die from coronavirus. “That would be wonderful if we could prevent that from happening,” Dr. Windsor said.

One of the things Dr. Windsor said she hears a lot of people say is that we just get it over with, get the coronavirus, get herd immunity going and be done with it. “But, according to myself and other medical professionals, herd immunity is not the way to fight this,” she said. “For one thing, we don’t know if you develop immunity, if it’s going to last. The virus could change. We’ve already seen people getting it multiple times and ending up in the hospital the second time they get it.”

The best option right now is to try and avoid getting COVID-19, Dr. Windsor said.

Wearing a Mask

Holding up a mask, the doctor said currently the best way to prevent spreading the virus is to wear a mask. However, she said the mask is not to protect the person wearing the mask but to protect those people around them.

Dr. Kelli Windsor, center along with nurses Christy Begeman and Ashley Woodrum, talks about the importance of wearing masks and following other health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

One of the problems with the virus, Dr. Windsor said, is that people don’t know they have it for the first few days and can be passing it along to other people without even knowing it because they don’t have any symptoms.

“So that’s why we wear (a mask), because we’re humble enough to know that I could have it (COVID-19) and not know it, and I could give it to somebody else and that person could die or be real sick. So please wear a mask when you’re out in public,” Dr. Windsor said.

She said she wears a mask when she’s out and about in the community, because she wants to protect everybody else. Anyone who works with the public and is around people a lot, or has been exposed to the health care environment should wear a mask.

“I’m exposed to a lot of people on a daily basis, and I’m one of those who could potentially carry the virus, so I wear it to protect you, not myself. The same goes for … anybody who wears a mask” she said.

One of the things Dr. Windsor said she hears some people say is that they can’t wear a mask because of breathing problems or the mask is so uncomfortable that they can’t breathe. “For the majority of those people I don’t think that’s true,” she said, adding that there are certain people with COPD or bad heart failure who might need oxygen and who cannot comfortably wear a mask. But, she said those are not the people she was talking about and that those people really need to be staying at home as much as possible.

“For the general population, we can wear a mask,” Dr. Windsor said. “Those of us that are in the medical profession, we wear them all day long right now, and we’re doing OK.”

She said the advice to wear a mask is mostly for those working inside in a close, confined space and isn’t as necessary for those working outdoors where social distancing is already happening.

She also advises everyone to carry hand sanitizer with them and use it often. “Wash your hand frequently,” she said.

Dr. Windsor also said she wanted to remind everyone to try to stay local as much as possible and shop locally

“Our local businesses need your support,” she said. “And right now, we have lot less coronavirus in Breckenridge than they do in Abilene or Stephenville or Fort Worth, and so if you can just stay in town that’s going to be really protective for us. You don’t want to be the one that goes out of town and brings it back to us.”

Dr. Windsor acknowledged that since it’s summer, people want to travel on vacation. However, she said, people might consider traveling to a rural area or Lake Hubbard. She suggested that local citizens try to avoid traveling to big cities if possible and to try to avoid traveling to areas inundated with the coronavirus.

Testing and Tracing

In her update, SMH Chief Nursing Officer Christy Begeman said the state is using a new COVID-19 tracing process and is responsible for the tracing, instead of the local doctors or nurses. She said the new program was just put into place last week.

“There’s still lots of kinks to be worked out,” she said. “So I think that’s where there was some concern with our community. We may not have all the information about the two new positive cases because they were tested outside of our community.”

Begeman said since non-emergency services have reopened and people begin to travel to other hospitals outside Breckenridge for various procedures at out of town hospitals, there are going to be more people tested outside Breckenridge and the local medical professionals will not have any control over those situations.

She said it is harder for larger facilities to get the information to all of the small rural areas. Local citizens who are diagnosed with COVID-19 outside of Breckenridge should contact their local Primary Care Physician and let them know so they continue to follow up.

Currently, SMH does not have access to the new tracking system, but officials expect to soon.

Infection control at Hospital

Ashley Woodrum, Quality Director at SMH, said during her update on infection control at the hospital that she wanted to reiterate what Dr. Windsor said about the importance of wearing a mask.

“We really need to keep wearing our masks, especially in the hospital setting, so we can protect each other. We’re going keep doing the same,” Woodrum said. “So you’ll see a lot more employees wearing masks around, even though we might not be providing patient contact. If we’re in the hallway, we want to keep everyone safe.”

Also she said getting tests has been a challenge but that SMH is trying to get the type of test that  they can perform in Breckenridge and get the results here.

Another shortage that has been affecting SMH is for personal protective equipment, such as gloves, gowns and surgical masks. “We’re hitting different resources, and we’re getting some in, but in the event winter comes and we hit another spike it’s going to be challenge,” Woodrum said.

Monitoring hospital capacity

Roach said at this time there is plenty of hospital capacity in the area. He said Taylor County has 4 percent of its hospital capacity in use and has reserved 15 percent capacity to be used for COVID-19 cases.

“So they have a lot of capacity there,” he said. “I think that’s what we’ve really worked on from a public health point in visiting with local health professionals … What is our local capacity? What is our local outbreak? Let’s balance those numbers and do what’s best for Stephens County.

“So you have my pledge, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” Roach continued. “And if the data show that we need to take tougher measures to control the spread, or if we’ve maxed out hospital capacity in our region, not just in our county, but in or region where we can’t transfer folks out because of hospital capacity, then before that happens we’ll see those trends and we’ll make the correct adjustment. So know that. … One of these days, we’ll put this behind us, but right now we’re going to fight the good fight.”

A sign outside the Stephens County Courthouse lists various precautions for those entering the building. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Dr. Kelli Windsor with Stephens Memorial Hospital recommends that everyone wear a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the current worldwide pandemic. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

For more news related to the pandemic, click here to visit the Breckenridge Texan’s Coronavirus News page.


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