Faced with a low number of confirmed COVID-19 infections and large-scale, public disregard for the governor’s face-covering order, County Judge Rob Kelly asked the governor’s office to exempt Kerr County from the order.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s July 2 face-covering order requires 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.
Kelly signed the exemption request on Sept. 14 and the county, on Sept. 15, confirmed he’d submitted it to the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
In order to obtain the face-covering exemption from the governor, a county must have fewer than 20 active cases and the county judge must file an attestation to that effect, according to Sept. 14 comments by William “Dub” Thomas, Kerr County emergency management coordinator. If a county receives an exemption and then has 20 or more active infections, then the county can’t apply for another exemption for another few weeks, according to Kerr County Attorney Heather Stebbins.
During their Sept. 14 meeting, county commissioners expressed agreement with asking Abbott’s office for the exemption. Officials noted that many people at the large, outdoor patriotic event on the courthouse grounds on Sept. 12 didn’t wear face coverings, even though the event organizer submitted a COVID-19 safety plan to Kelly, who approved it. Abbott’s July 2 order also prohibited outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people without the approval of the mayor or county judge.
“My observation is, for example, the patriot gathering this weekend: there was very little social distancing, there was hardly any masks,” Kelly said. “I approve all of these COVID-19 safety plans for these gatherings; nobody follows them, nothing’s being enforced. I’m just being realistic; I’m not being pessimistic about (it), I’m just saying this is the way it is. And so I have to ask myself, what do we really need to be doing at this point?”
Kerr County Sheriff W.R. “Rusty” Hierholzer made it clear earlier this year that he wasn’t willing to divert law enforcement resources to making sure people were wearing face masks in compliance with the governor’s order, and went so far as to call the order unconstitutional.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, Thomas mentioned he had been at the gun and knife show last weekend and saw there were “a significant number of people not wearing masks.”
“And we were packed in there like sardines,” Thomas said.
Kerr County Precinct 2 Commissioner Tom Moser noted a general lack of compliance with the governor’s order at a large Sunday event he attended.
Thomas told commissioners local COVID-19 infections have declined since the end of July, and there hadn’t been more than 20 active infections since Aug. 14. There were well over 150 active cases at one time in Kerr County, he said. As of late Sept. 14, there were 10 active infections and 10 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Based on Kelly’s comments during the Sept. 14 meeting, and the preceding discussion with his colleagues on the court, it was clear that Kelly had made up his mind to submit the attestation.
“So you know what you’re going to do?” asked Precinct 4 Commissioner Don Harris at the end of the discussion that day.
Kelly replied, “Yeah, I do,” and then called the next agenda item.