Breckenridge Texan

Face masks to be required in public in Stephens County, beginning Monday, July 20

Face masks to be required in public in Stephens County, beginning Monday, July 20
July 16
22:26 2020

This afternoon, Stephens County Judge Michael Roach and Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims announced new community restrictions due to increasing numbers of local residents with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and limited hospital capacity here and throughout the region.

In an “Urgent COVID-19 Update” that was broadcast live on Facebook, Roach, Sims, along with the sheriff, police chief and three local doctors, discussed the current local situation and repeatedly asked citizens to wear face masks when they’re out in public.

“I know from the comments and the phone calls that we’ve received here at the county, a lot of you are frustrated. You want this to all be over with, and we certainly understand that,” Roach said in his opening remarks. “This is wearisome, and we understand that. Please know that we get the frustration, and we’re doing our best to navigate the situation as it unfolds.”

Stage 5

Roach said that, effective Monday, July 20, the county will move into Stage 5 of the Community Health Plan, which includes the following requirement and recommendations:

  1. Face masks required, as per Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order, when you’re in a commercial entity or you’re outdoors and social distancing isn’t feasible
  2. Shelter-in-place highly recommended for all at-risk community members
  3. Travel outside of Stephens County strongly discouraged at this time

The Community Health Plan was unveiled a couple of weeks ago. It includes five stages, with Stage 5 being the most stringent. The original plan had Stage 5 put the county under an emergency order that required shelter-in-place as well as mandatory masks. However, Roach and other community and health officials amended Stage 5 to have only the masks required and shelter-in-place as a recommendation.

Roach addressed the topic of misinformation and assured citizens that reports of local COVID-19 cases come directly from people who were tested because they were sick and had symptoms of the disease.

Stephens County Judge Michael Roach talks to the community while Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims and Police Chief Bacel Cantrell look on. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

“When we say to you, the community, ‘Hey, we’re seeing an uptick in cases,’ that’s not coming from a national news source,” he said. “When we say we’re seeing an uptick in cases in our community, it’s not because somebody is testing people who aren’t sick. It doesn’t exist today in our community where we’re testing mass numbers of asymptomatic people. What we’re doing, for the most part, is testing people who have come into the clinic or hospital or ER…and they are sick. And, those are the ones we’ve tested. And those tests are being administered by health care professionals you trust each and every day with your medical needs. I want you to know that. There’s not some conspiracy to get those numbers up.”

Prior to today, Thursday, July 16, the county had been at Stage 3.

In addition to an increase in the numbers of local cases, another reason for the jump from Stage 3 to Stage 5 is that many hospitals in the region are already full or have limited staff and cannot take any extra patients that Stephens County has.

Although face masks will now be required in public, certain people may be excused from wearing a mask if they have a medical or mental condition that makes it difficult or dangerous for them to wear a mask.

However, Roach said, businesses have the right to require anyone entering their property to wear a mask and the right to refuse to let them enter if they aren’t wearing a mask.

By wearing a mask, community members are helping to support the local economy, because by wearing masks, citizens help prevent the continued spread of the disease and thereby prevent further state-mandated restrictions on local businesses.

“If we get over 20 active cases, according to Gov. Abbot’s order, GA-29, it reduces all of our restaurant capacity to 50 percent,” Roach said. “I’ve talked to restaurant owners, and they say, ‘We cannot survive going back to half-capacity again. That just can’t happen.’”

The county judge said that’s why he’s asking everyone to come together in support of wearing masks in public. “That’s what we’re asking of you as a community. Think of your neighbor. Think of others. Let’s do this together,” Roach said. “Please help us, Stephens County. Let’s do this together. We can knock this out,” Roach said.

Sims thanked the community for supporting the local businesses over the past several months, and he re-emphasized the need for everyone to wear a mask.


Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell and Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt addressed the law enforcement side of the new face mask requirement.

“We just want everyone to be aware that we are thankful for how everyone’s been acting throughout this whole ordeal and that we’re going to be enforcing state laws,” Cantrell said.

Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt and Breckenridge Police Chief Bacel Cantrell addressed the law enforcement side of the new health plan. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Some businesses in Breckenridge have started requiring their customers to wear masks in the store, and Cantrell said he doesn’t want people harassing the employees for asking them to wear a mask. Anyone who causes a disturbance or refuses to leave a business when asked to, can face charges of breaching the peace, disorderly conduct or criminal trespass.

“These businesses have to follow the rules from their corporations and they have rules from the governor’s office they have to abide by…They’re citizens of our community, trying to do a job, trying to stay open,” Cantrell said. “We’re going to do the best we can to make sure they can do that.”

Although Holt encouraged people to wear a mask when shopping, he also said that the sheriff’s office and police department are not going to be checking to see if people are wearing masks and aren’t going to stop or detain people who aren’t wearing masks.

“…if a private business, not run by the government, if they choose to require you to wear a mask or they limit the amount of a certain type of product you can buy, that’s their choice as a private company in America, and we ask that you don’t get angry or disorderly with those businesses,” Holt said. “Remove your political lens or your ideological lens, that framework that you typically have for this situation, take that out of the equation and understand that a private business can make their own rules. And, if you disturb that business, threaten that business, or refuse to leave that business for not following their rules, then we will enforce traditional penal code law.”

Medical Overview

Speaking for the medical community were Dr. Cynthia Perry, Dr. Kelli Windsor and Dr. William Prater. They all emphasized the benefits of wearing facial masks.

Dr. William Prater says that wearing a mask in public is just common sense. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/ Breckenridge Texan)

Dr. Perry spoke first and addressed the topics of increasing numbers of local cases of COVID-19 and the lack of hospital space in the area. Additionally, she suggested that people who are uncomfortable wearing thick masks try the blue surgical masks, if they have access to them. Dr. Perry said the blue masks are more comfortable and her glasses don’t get fogged up when she wears them.

Dr. Windsor said that Stephens Memorial Hospital can handle 10 to 12 patients at one time before the nurses get overwhelmed. “If we have a whole bunch of sick people with coronavirus needing hospitalization all at once, it would quickly overwhelm us,” she said. “Take it seriously. Try to protect yourself and your family. Do the best that you can to try and keep it from spreading to others.”

One of the best ways to protect yourself and others is to wear a mask, Dr. Windsor said.

All of the doctors agreed that the numbers of people with COVID-19 in Stephens County are probably under-reported because the medical community is limited in the number of test kits they have access to. Therefore, if several members of a family are suspected to have the disease, only one person will be tested.

If one person in a family or household tests positive for COVID-19, the others in the household are usually treated as if they have it, too, and are required to quarantine for two weeks or more. The guidelines for quarantine are 10 days from the onset of symptoms and at least three days from the last symptom, such as a fever.

Dr. Prater took a practical view of the situation. “From my standpoint, it’s kind of common sense,” he said. “It’s a respiratory virus. It’s spread in aerosol, so if you put a handkerchief or bandana or mask…if I (wear a mask and) sneeze, it won’t spray. So, it protects you. If you wear a mask and you sneeze at me, it stops; it doesn’t get me. So, it’s kind of a reverse psychology. You’re actually protecting somebody by wearing a mask.”

Additionally, he said, disinfecting surfaces is important to prevent the spread of the disease by people touching contaminated surfaces.

“I’ve said it jokingly, but it’s more or less true: If you get COVID, you might as well go see your preacher, because your doctor can’t do a lot for you,” Dr. Prater said.

One of the confusing things about the disease is that people can test positive for the virus and not even know they have it. So, they can spread COVID-19 before they are aware that they have it. “That’s what makes this virus deadly, stealth,” Dr. Prater said.

At SMH, the doctors can give you oxygen and IV fluid. “We can give you steroids, if you’re really bad,” Dr. Prater said. “And, that’s about all we have here in Stephens County. We don’t have Remdesivir. We don’t have hyperimmune globulin. We don’t have any of those things. You see that on TV, but it’s not here.”

The doctors said that current evidence indicates that people can get COVID-19 more than once. Different people have different responses to the virus, and even those who develop some type of immunity to the disease could still get it later on.

“We don’t really know a lot of the answers about how robust the immunity is, how long it lasts,” Dr. Windsor said. “There’s more questions than answers.”


After the doctors spoke, Roach addressed the community again.

“By asking you to wear a mask, whether that’s in Walmart or CVS or United, whatever store you go in to, we’re not asking you to disregard your own intelligence, where you may think ‘Hey, I’m just being a sheep…I’m being led to the slaughter and buying into the narrative.’ You’re smarter than that, and you know that you are,” he said. “What I’m personally asking you to do is let’s do this out of charity. Let’s do this out of care and concern before we have to do it out of necessity, before we get to the place… that we have a hospital full of folks that we can’t treat.

“Let’s do this out of charity, not because you’re sheep, not because we’re asking you to blindly follow,” he continued. “But, we’re asking you to do it out of charity. These doctors recommend it. Public health recommends it. We’re asking you to help us out.”

To watch the recording of the broadcast, click here to visit the Stephens County Facebook page.

Dr. Kelli Windsor, Dr. Cynthia Perry and Dr. William Prater wait for their turn to speak during the Urgent COVID-19 Update on Thursday, July 16. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Story by Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Dr. Kelli Windsor, Dr. Cynthia Perry and Dr. William Prater talked about the medical aspects of the current COVID-19 situation. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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