Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

GC Residents Now Required to Wear Masks as Cases Continue to Rise

Sunday, July 12, 2020
GC Residents Now Required to Wear Masks as Cases Continue to Rise

Sentinel Photo/Marilou D. Horton

With Gov. Abbott's recent disaster declaration addressing the most recent second wave of the coronavirus, resulting in more stringent rules, an increasing number of Texans have raised the issue of personal liberty, as well as the effectiveness of mask requirements that have accompanied the declaration.

Those concerns were the source of some discussion with a group of Gaines County residents during a public forum as the commissioners court came to order on Wednesday at the Gaines County Courthouse. The group of more than 12 expressed their constitutional concerns about the more restrictive government-mandated rules.

To make his point about what he perceives as the ineffectiveness of face coverings, local GOP President Ryan Richards appeared wearing some sort of porous netted scarf over his face before addressing the court.

After the group made their points, Judge Tom Keyes explained that he did not feel that a governor's steps to enhance the safety of the state he represents is necessarily inconsistent with constitutional rights. He advised the group that, as the court is subject to state law, they should consider contacting their representatives and petition lawmakers at the state level.

Later in the meeting, Keyes expanded somewhat on the earlier public forum, disagreeing that N95 masks are of no benefit and represent an abridgement of freedoms.

"Some folks say it's unconstitutional," Keyes said. "But I can't get there from here. Wearing a mask does not abridge your rights. Are they perfect? Absolutely not".

Keyes went on to detail his career as a nurse "for more than 20 years, eight hours a day, wearing masks," including triage training in preparation for mass public disasters.

Keyes said that "law enforcement isn't going to walk around measuring six feet", while submitting that some of the governor's orders are "subjective enough as to be unenforceable."

Keyes also noted that while some small businesses may use their discretion, some franchises and other businesses are subject to rules handed down from the corporate level.

"This virus is going to be with us for the rest of our lives," the judge added. "I don't have a lot of faith that a vaccine will be created, but we are developing treatments.”

Later, Richards told the Sentinel "I'm glad they allowed some public comment. It was good to have some dialogue."

Under the new declaration, should any county reach more than 20 active cases, which generally indicates a broader "community spread", more stringent rules concerning social distancing and masks in public were to go into effect. Just prior to Wednesday's meeting that number was below the threshold, and Judge Keyes had filed an exemption, assuring the county's compliance at the time.

With a small spike, however, the number went to 20 just prior to Wednesday's meeting, which still regarded face masks as `optional'. Since the meeting, the South Plains Public Health District has reported three additional active cases, up to 23 at this writing, among a total of 39 in the county to date, 16 of those have recovered.

With the exemption now obsolete, the more restrictive rules will be in place for a minimum of 30 days before another exemption may be filed, and only if the case count returns to 20 or below.

Until then, Gaines County residents should be prepared to wear a mask when entering any space where others are present who cannot maintain a six-foot distance from one another. Groups should be limited to ten. Two or more members of the same household are not required to be separated.

Responding to public comments regarding coronavirus reporting, especially the elimination of some demographic information from reports, South Plains Public Health Director Zach Holbrooks, also in attendance, told the Sentinel that the decision to revert to a "Dashboard" format, without demographics, was a district board decision.

"I looked at the number of cases between the five locations and asked myself, "What can my staff handle?", Holbrooks said. "The general idea of all this is to bring the totals down.”

The decision was made to include only total cases, active cases, and recoveries.

Holbrooks said that in the event of a "cluster" of cases emerging from a particular location or event, such as a graduation party (which was the case in another county), the District would release that information. Potential patients are always notified before information is released to the public.

"We have to make sure that we don't get any duplicates," Holbrooks said. He explained that it can be difficult to know exactly how many people are getting tested, as results for local cases may be extracted from private labs or doctor's offices. Some may arrive from Texas Tech University labs.

"We are doing the best we can to get the correct information to the public while trying to be sensitive to the patients," Holbrooks said.

The SPPHD represents public health interests of five different counties in a variety of ways, apart from this current crisis.

Reviewing the county's Action Plan in the management of public safety, Precinct 4 Commissioner Biz Houston told the court that a previously scheduled rodeo event in his precinct had been voluntarily cancelled by its promoters. Commissioners approved a letter of appreciation for event organizers.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Belt said that a 4-H shooting event in Post will remain on schedule, with safety guidelines in place.

In other matters before the court, commissioners approved a June 17 jail inspection and renewed two new juvenile contracts.

Commissioners also authorized Judge Keyes to utilize the services of Austin attorney Chuck Kimbrough to take the final steps in securing the county's portion of the TXDot County Transportation Infrastructure Fund Grant program.

The court also approved two golf tournament requests and a BuyBoard purchase of an asphalt distributor for Precinct 1. The measure authorized the purchase from a different vendor, as the first was unable to make delivery on time.

Also authorized was the acceptance of a $903.70 payment to the county from Dawson Geophysical Co. to conduct a 3D geophysical survey on behalf of EOG Resources Inc. on 51.64 acres of county-owned land.

“Some folks say it’s unconstitutional,” Keyes said. “But I can’t get there from here. Wearing a mask does not abridge your rights. Are they perfect? Absolutely not.”

-Gaines County Judge, Tom Keyes