Breckenridge Texan

Update: Stephens County no longer exempt from mandatory mask order as number of active COVID-19 cases surpasses 21

Update: Stephens County no longer exempt from mandatory mask order as number of active COVID-19 cases surpasses 21
October 03
12:26 2020

UPDATE: As of Saturday afternoon, Oct. 3, Stephens County is no longer exempt from the mandatory mask order, GA-29, issued by Gov. Greg Abbott on July 2, according to Stephens County Judge Michael Roach. On Friday, there were 20 active cases, including two cases that were tested in Graham, and on Saturday, another person tested positive at the Urgent Care Clinic at Stephens Memorial Hospital. The county must remain under GA-29 guidelines for at least a week. Then, once the number of active cases drops below 21 again, the county can re-apply for the exemption.

Original story:

By Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

As the world monitors news of U.S. President Donald Trump’s health after news broke early Friday morning that he and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19, active cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus have doubled in the past five days in Stephens County.

The number of active cases in Stephens County has increased to 21 since this graphic was created by Stephens County earlier Saturday, Oct. 3.

On Monday, Sept. 28, Stephens Memorial Hospital reported that there were nine active cases in the county, and on Friday, Oct. 2, the hospital reported 18 active cases with six tests pending. Additionally, late Friday, Graham Regional Medical Center reported two positive tests for residents of Stephens County; those numbers were not included in SMH’s count of 18.

If the county surpasses 20 active cases, Stephens County will no longer be exempt from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-29, according to Stephens County Judge Michael Roach. He said once the county reaches 21 active cases, they’ll be required to implement rules such as mandatory mask wearing in public places.

On Saturday morning, Roach released a statement regarding the current, local COVID-19 situation and the precautions residents need to take.

“I am appealing to you, not as the Stephens County Judge, but as a dad, husband, and a friend. While we may not all agree with federal and state mandates, if we wish to keep our local and state economy thriving, support our schools, and mitigate this virus’s mental health effects, there are a few things we can do to help,” he said in the statement.

He then went on to list some actions people can take to help slow the spread of the disease and prevent further state-mandated restrictions, including: when possible, comply with local, state, and federal health guidelines; support the local school district in their efforts to prevent COVID-19 in the schools; support local healthcare workers by practicing simple rules, such as washing your hands, wearing a mask, social distancing; and doing everything possible to protect the county’s vulnerable population, including the elderly and immunocompromised.

Read Roach’s complete statement at the end of this article.

Current Cases

The current number of cases is the highest number of active cases the county has had since the pandemic began, not counting the cases at the Walker Sayle prison unit, Roach said.

The increase in local cases has been steady since Sept. 11 when the number of active cases had dropped to two. There were six active cases the following week and eight active cases another week later. The number grew to nine on Monday and then 18 on Friday, and the two reported by GRMC increase the total of local, active cases to 20.

If the county reaches an active case count of 21 or higher and the GA-29 mandates are enacted, masks and social distancing may be required, but the occupancy capacity at restaurants will remain at 75 percent. According to Roach, in September Abbott increased the allowed capacity for restaurants beyond the 50 percent capacity, even in larger cities like Dallas. However, bars still must remain closed by the governor’s order.

Additionally, an increase in cases will likely prompt Roach to change Stephens County from Stage 3 to Stage 4 of the Community Health Plan, which will include more restrictions than are currently in place.

Monitoring the situation

Roach said although the county and Stephens Memorial Hospital monitor the situation locally, as soon as the number of local active cases surpasses 20 and are verified through the Texas Department of Health Services, the Texas Department of Emergency Management will send Stephens County a notification that they are no longer exempt.

“However, we’ve been on top of this all along, and we know what our case count is. So if we go over 20, we’re not going to wait around until somebody tells us,” Roach said. “We’re going to be very judicious about watching our own numbers, and if we go over 20, we know it. We’re going to police ourselves and put out the alert: ‘Here’s the rules, masks are mandatory.’ And we’ve been warning about that all along, that over 20 the state steps in.”

Chris Curtis, the director of business development for SMH and the person who tracks the number of COVID-19 cases for SMH, said he can monitor the situation from home now. Since the county is so close to the over 20-case threshold, he said, he will keep an eye on everything over the weekend.

Based on the incubation period for the virus and the recommended 14-day quarantine/isolation period for those who have the virus, Curtis said the number of local active cases will not be reduced before Monday, Oct. 5, and then only two of the patients will be considered recovered.

Although the Breckenridge Medical Center and the ResourceCare clinic are closed for the weekend, COVID-19 tests will be administered at the hospital’s Urgent Care clinic and the Emergency Room.

Roach said he also will be monitoring the situation.

“If we see it spike over the weekend, let’s say we have 5 or 6 test positive (on Saturday), well the public’s going to know about that. We’re going to stay on top of it over the weekend because we’re just so close to that number,” he said.

Roach said the number of active cases is an indicator of a troubling local trend and that everyone needs to stay aware of the situation. Other area towns, such as Graham and Eastland have higher numbers of active cases.

He said there were 38 active cases in Eastland on Friday, and Graham Regional Medical Center reported on Friday that there are 59 active cases in Young County.

Testing

Stephens County residents have regular access to two types of COVID-19 testing, the original diagnostic test (aka molecular or viral test), for which the nasal swab is sent to the State of Texas for analysis, and the antigen or rapid test (aka Point of Care Test), which produces results locally and quickly.

Now that Stephens County has the rapid testing available, most results are known within about 15 minutes. However, Curtis said that Dr. Kelli Windsor explained that if a person tests negative with a rapid test but has COVID-19 symptoms, their doctor will most likely have the diagnostic test done, as well.

Source of the virus

Although there doesn’t appear to be one source for the recent cases of COVID-19, Roach said looking back over the past two weeks of activities in the community gives a good indication of what’s triggered the rise in local cases.

“It could be a case where you had multiple interactions, some community event that had quite a few folks that are positive attend the same event, or one person that is a super spreader, so to speak,” he said.

He said it’s really hard to nail that down because in the past few weeks the county has had bass tournaments, hunters who have been in town for dove season and to eat at local restaurants, football games and more.

Curtis agreed with Roach. “You know, I noticed going around town, people aren’t being as vigilant about wearing masks and people are just out and about a lot more,” he said. “And we’re testing more, so I think (more cases are) inevitable. We’re having football games, we’re having all that stuff going on, so it’s just to be expected, to be real honest.”

Recommended Precautions

Roach said the most important recommendation is that anyone who is symptomatic needs to self-isolate or quarantine if they test positive or if they’re not going to get tested or seek treatment.

“I recommend you go to the doctor and have a check-up and be tested. It’s easy to do, and it’s a 15-minute test,” he said. “If you’re not going to do that, then please isolate, quarantine until you feel better. We cannot be having people going to work and out in the community who are sick; that’s just not healthy and puts so many other people at risk.”

He also said that anyone who has to be in a commercial setting, like a grocery store, where social distancing is not possible, then the recommendation is that a mask should be worn.

Gatherings

Currently , the law requires if someone is going to have a gathering of more than 100 people, they have to call and get permission from the County Office of Emergency Management, which is Roach’s office.

That does not include the school, which is governed by the Texas Education Agency and UIL, or bars, which the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission oversees. Roach said the requirement is for other gatherings, such as a fundraising event.

He said he would recommend that they have hand sanitizing stations and wear masks. “They’re still trying to stay afloat and keep some of these worthy causes going,” he said.

seriousness of situation

“It’s serious. It’s real. We’re seeing a significant increase locally, and so people really need to pay attention,” Roach said.

County Judge Michael Roach's Statement

Friends, you may be tired of hearing about COVID-19. Like you, I am also weary and frustrated on many levels. However, we must continue to “fight the good fight.” What is our goal locally?

Supporting our local economy, schools, healthcare facilities, and protect the vulnerable population to the best of our abilities. The headlines do not show the four local businesses that have closed due to the adverse effects of COVID-19. Missing from the conversation is the increase in mental health calls that our first responders and healthcare professionals answer. What we do not see are the children in our community who are struggling. Not included in the case counts are numerous unemployed individuals who are now scraping by to provide for their families. So, how can we help?

I am appealing to you, not as the Stephens County Judge, but as a dad, husband, and a friend. While we may not all agree with federal and state mandates, if we wish to keep our local and state economy thriving, support our schools, and mitigate this virus’s mental health effects, there are a few things we can do to help.

1. When possible, comply with local, state, and federal health guidelines. Please know that these rules are not made locally, and if we wish to change the laws that govern us during a pandemic, we will have that chance in the upcoming state legislative session. However, for now, this is the “cards” we have been dealt. Let us make the best of the situation. It is essential to recognize that health conditions may prevent mask-wearing by some citizens. We should be respectful to every individual and embrace the golden rule.

2. Support the efforts of our local school district. Please remember, BISD. answers to the TEA, UIL, and other agencies. When the school asks for your compliance at an event or at the campus, it is about the athlete on the field or the child in the classroom. We can support our students by doing what we’re asked to do by the school administration. We want these students to have the BEST YEAR POSSIBLE. It isn’t about you to “shoot straight” with you; it is about these kids. So, we can complain or support. I choose to support these children. Yes, I am aware of constitutionality questions and the freedom infringing aspects of state mandates. Again, let us fight that on the state level where that argument will be successful.

3. Support our local healthcare professionals. We have an excellent and caring healthcare community. Regardless of the challenges, they get up every day to make our lives better. We can help them by abiding by some simple rules. Washing our hands, physical distancing where possible, wearing a mask when physical distancing is not possible, and stay home when we are sick are a few simple but powerful steps we can take to help those who are helping us!

4. Protecting our vulnerable population. We cannot protect everyone with underlying health conditions. However, we can do our part to ensure that we are doing our best to mitigate the risks on behalf of elderly or immunocompromised patients. We must all take personal responsibility for our health and safety. Take advantage of the opportunities for the “at-risk” populations.

In conclusion, I would like to offer a few thoughts. We seem to live in a world that, on the one hand, we expect the government to be the end-all to every aspect of life. On the other hand, it seems that there is an attitude that reflects selfishness and a lack of concern for our fellow humans. Isn’t the place to be somewhere in the middle? Shouldn’t we allow the government to fill its proper role, and we as responsible citizens do the right thing? In my opinion, and you know what those are worth, we can hold fast to our rights and freedoms and still help our community. It is an honor to serve you! Keep your chin up, Stephens County and Breckenridge, we are going to get through this together!

Kindest regards,

Michael C. Roach

Stephens County Judge

 

Graphic courtesy of Stephens County Judge Michael Roach

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at about 4:20 p.m. Oct. 3, 2020.
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