Breckenridge Texan

Governor issues mandatory face mask coverings; more positive COVID-19 cases reported locally  

Governor issues mandatory face mask coverings; more positive COVID-19 cases reported locally  
July 03
08:37 2020

Thursday afternoon, shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott issued new mask guidelines for Texans, Stephens County officials announced two new local cases of COVID-19 with eight tests pending. There are now five active cases in Stephens County, and so far none of the new cases have required the patients being hospitalized, according to officials.

New positive test results reported for Stephens County

According to County Judge Michael Roach, who is also the County’s Emergency Coordinator, there was one positive case on Wednesday and two on Thursday. He said another person was sent to Abilene to have a rapid test done Thursday because, as he understands it, that person interacts with a lot of people throughout the week. The results from that test are expected on Friday.

At least one of the newly reported cases is community-related, according to Roach. “The best we can tell, at least with one of those cases, it’s community spread with the contracting in our community,” Roach said.  “The other one I’m not so sure about.”

Roach said he talked with one of the local doctors who feels that, based on the increase of symptomatic patients coming in, that Stephens County is going to see a significant uptick in positive cases.

“So there’s some widespread exposure going on right now in our community that I think is going to result in a significant amount of positives, but right now we don’t really know,” Roach said. “We’re waiting on some results and see how it looks at the clinics and hospitals over the weekend.”

Update and informational video posted on Stephens County Facebook page

Roach and Stephens Memorial Hospital Chief Nursing Officer Christy Begeman and Quality Director Ashley Woodrum have created a video message that includes an update on the County’s coronavirus situation. The video is scheduled to be posted on the County’s Facebook page today, Friday, July 3.

Roach said the video includes a weekly update on the COVID-19 situation along with information on testing, what to do it you feel you’re symptomatic, if you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or if you get called by a contact tracer.

He said Woodrum explains the testing process and Begeman discusses the different potential levels of the COVID-19 situation in the county, from a health care stand point, and what criteria are used to elevate to each level.

He said they will also have a graphic that shows were the Stephens County situation is currently and explains the plan they’ve put together to manage a local outbreak.

“We want everybody to know where we are and what’s going to happen if we start seeing certain numbers so everybody can understand” Roach said. “I hope we can get buy-in to the mission here of protecting our community as best as possible.”

County’s response to governor’s face covering requirement

On Thursday, July 2, Gov. Abbot issued an Executive Order requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.

According to the order, counties with fewer than 20 COVID-19 cases must meet the following requirements to be exempt:

  1. The county must have 20 or less active COVID-19 cases.
  2. The county judge of a county with 20 or less active cases must submit an exemption form affirmatively opting out.

Roach said Stephens County has interpreted the order to apply to counties that have 20 or more active cases, which Stephens County does not. However, he said he does not intend to file for the exemption.

Although at this time the County is not requiring face masks, officials are highly recommending them, Roach said.

“Just a couple of days ago we said we all need to be wearing a mask, we recommended doing that, and by not filing for the exemption we want the flexibility for the enforcement piece, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to start off there,” he said. “But we’re going to have the tools available to us if we need to enforce that.

“My official position on that is, if we don’t do the hard work now, we are going to leave ourselves no choice but to do it in the future,” he explained. “I think we should go along with the governor’s order and, out of the abundance of caution, wear a mask when you’re out in public and you’re shopping and things like that and avoid large gatherings. While we don’t meet the letter of the law, I think we should comply with the spirit of what’s trying to be done from a public health standpoint. And that comes from every local doctor and healthcare professional I’ve talked to.”

The governor’s order also specifies that the following people are exempt from the new face mask requirement:

  1. any person younger than 10 years of age;
  2. any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
  3. any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
  4. any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household;
  5. any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver;
  6. any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal;
  7. any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water;
  8. any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
  9. any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
  10. any person while the person is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an audience;

Click the following link to read the full Executive Order: EO-GA-29-use-of-face-coverings-during-COVID-19

The Governor also issued a proclamation giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of over 10 people, and making it mandatory that, with certain exceptions, people cannot be in groups larger than 10 and must maintain six feet of social distancing from others. The proclamation amends Executive Order GA-28, which was issued on June 26. Click the following link to read the full Proclamation: DISASTER-proclamation-amending-GA-28-mass-gatherings-IMAGE-07-02-2020

Face covering requirement enforcement

Roach said he has not met with the Sheriff or County Attorney yet, but he does not see the county being heavy handed about enforcing it.

“We’re going to ask for compliance to the recommendations that have been made by Dr. Perry and Dr. Windsor, and if we don’t see that cooperation and the reduction in the spread…(if we) start seeing an uptick like we’re seeing right now in our clinics and hospital, that’s going to be the determining factor. And that’s what we’ve said all along,” he said. “Yeah, we’re seeing some positive cases; we see we’re heading in the wrong direction; we’ve appealed to the public for voluntary compliance. I don’t think you start enforcing it right away, But when the data comes in and we start seeing that, then you can move there. I’m not comfortable today writing people tickets for that stuff. I’m just not there.”

Concerns looking ahead

Looking ahead, Roach said what concerns him is the same thing that concerns the experts, and that is a 12 percent growth in positive test results for five days in a row. In a small community like Breckenridge, that could be one positive case a day for five days in a row, Roach said.

“From a public health standpoint that really concerns me, if we start seeing our own local curve, our own local outbreak,” he said.  “Once you identify a curve, then it’s really going to be important to respond to that. And I think we have a plan put together for that.”


Story by Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a video message on Thursday to coincide with his Executive Order, encouraging Texans to do their part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and keep their communities safe. Click here to view the video. 


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