On the day that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order requiring nearly all Texans to cover their faces in public spaces went into effect, the state saw another big batch of new cases and hospitalizations.
The news has hardly been good for Texas when it comes to managing the coronavirus pandemic, but here in Kerrville there were no new cases reported. Although, on the police scanner on Friday, emergency calls could be heard to send paramedics to at least two homes with people suspected of being sickened by the virus.
Abbott’s order came Thursday afternoon and it looks to slow the spread of the virus that currently has 7,600 people in the hospital. It was the fifth consecutive day of 250 or more new hospital admissions and continued a surge of hospitalizations since Memorial Day weekend. Since June 16, Texas has been averaging more than 250 new hospital admissions per day.
In Kerrville, the count was 78 active cases, 119 total positive tests and one person hospitalized at Peterson Regional Medical Center.
Abbott’s new order also puts restrictions on gatherings to no more than 10 people — with exceptions — sowing plenty of confusion for groups across the state, and leaving the decision up to mayors and county judges.
There’s also an enforcement component to this executive order, and there are plenty of exemptions but just how it will be enforced will be unclear, especially here in Kerr County.
The lateness of Abbott’s Thursday afternoon order caught many by surprise, including Kerrville Mayor Bill Blackburn and Kerr County Sheriff W.R. Rusty Hierholzer, who said he would not issue a citation under the order, adding that duty belonged to the state’s Department of Public Safety.
In the order, Abbott says, “following a verbal or written warning for a first-time violator of this face-covering requirement, a person’s second violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250. Each subsequent violation shall be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation.
“Local law enforcement and other local officials, as appropriate, can and should enforce this executive order, Executive Order GA-28, and other effective executive orders, as well as local restrictions that are consistent with this executive order and other effective executive orders.”
However, Abbott also makes it clear that people cannot be detained for not wearing a face covering in public. Hierholzer didn’t argue against wearing face masks, but objected to the enforcement.
Kerr County Commissioner Harley Belew, who has consistently downplayed and dismissed the virus, took to Facebook to criticize Abbott’s decision.
“Just in time to celebrate our freedom from tyranny,” wrote Belew, who followed up with a series of questions about the order, including how did the governor come to the 20 positive cases.
Over the last two weeks, more than 76,000 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19, the virus caused by coronavirus. On Thursday, another 500 people were admitted to hospitals across the state, bringing the state’s aggregate total hospitalized to more than 7,000 — also putting strain on hospitals in the state’s largest cities.
When it comes to events with 10 or more people, those are automatically banned for the time being — unless there is a local override by a mayor or county judge. There were several small to medium-sized events planned for the Fourth of July weekend, including baseball tournaments at the city’s baseball fields, but there are other larger events scheduled in the coming days in Kerrville.
In the case of baseball games, those events are actually exempted under the state order because they fall under the governor’s June 26 executive order, but there could be limitations on those attending. All of this is part of some of the vagaries of Abbott’s order.
Any other event would have to get approval by Blackburn or Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly in order to proceed, according to the order.
Blackburn hadn’t decided how he would rule on these events as of Friday morning.
In an interview Thursday night, Blackburn said he had met with business owners who expressed a desire to protect their employees with a local mask order, but that meeting was happening just as Abbott was issuing his order. Blackburn also cited studies by Texas A&M on the efficacy of masks and by investment bank Goldman Sachs on how masks can actually save companies money by limiting sick leave.
The Texas A&M study said that wearing face coverings probably reduced infections in New York City alone by 66,000 cases. The study, which also looked at cases in Italy, was also done in cooperation with researchers at the University of Texas, University of California, San Diego and the California Institute of Technology.
“Our results clearly show that airborne transmission via respiratory aerosols represents the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19,” wrote Renyi Zhang, Texas A&M Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences and the Harold J. Haynes Chair in the College of Geosciences. “By analyzing the pandemic trends without face-covering using the statistical method and by projecting the trend, we calculated that over 66,000 infections were prevented by using a face mask in little over a month in New York City. We conclude that wearing a face mask in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission.”