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Increased COVID-19 Cases Decrease Occupancy Limits in Gaines County

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Gaines County Judge Tom N. Keyes received a letter Tuesday from the Medical Director and a Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services informing the judge that Gaines County no longer meets the threshold to open at the higher occupancy limits (75%).

Those businesses required to return to a maximum of 50% occupancy in Gaines County include restaurants, retail stores, offce buildings, manufacturing facilities, gyms and exercise facilities and classes, museums, and libraries.

All licensed hospitals in the TSAB area--we are in with Lubbock--are required to discontinue elective surgery. The judge noted that churches were not mentioned in the governor’s GA-32 order released on Oct. 7. That order overruled GA-30.

The letter written by Dr. John Hellerstedt M.D., said, “Under GA-32, DSHS continues to oversee an attestation process for counties with minimal cases to allow them to choose to operate at 75% capacity for certain businesses. This attestation process is an option for counties with minimal cases and resides in trauma service areas (TSA) with high hospitalization.”

Judge Keyes explained that since Gaines County continues to have more than 30 active cases (as of Monday, Oct. 26, there were 125) and the TSA rate has surpassed the 15% hospitalization rate for more than seven days, the area is no longer allowed to operate at 75%. The capacity drops back down to 50%. Gaines County has not been below 30 active cases since Aug. 3, 2020. The judge added that this order affects all TSAB counties, except for those under 30 active cases.

“We will be able to return to 75% occupancy, and bars will reopen when Gaines County is under 30 cases for 14 days, or when TSAB is under 15% hospitalization rate for seven days,” Judge Keyes stressed.

In addition to restaurants reverting to 50% capacity, all bars (public and private clubs) must close, Judge Keyes said. When asked if Seminole had any bars, the judge explained: “Bars are defined as any establishment that receives more than 51% of income from liquor sales. So, the establishments here that sell alcohol will know if they meet the standard and will answer to the TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission) if they do.”

Judge Keyes said in his press release that rising numbers in Gaines County could be reduced by following preventative measures such as:

-wearing a mask when you can’t socially distance from others

-washing your hands with soap and water frequently

-maintaining six feet of social distancing from anyone not in your household.

He also stressed that senior citizens with underlying conditions like emphysema, COPD, diabetes, and high blood pressure should avoid large social gatherings.

“I know many of you think this is ridiculous, and it’s a hoax; that it will go away after the election. Some of those thoughts may be right, but COVID-19 is real. It is not a hoax. Maybe it isn’t as deadly as they first told us, but it is a delay for some. It may not be as contagious as they told us, but it is contagious. And the preventative measures may not be perfect, but they can reduce our risk of catching it from others or transmitting it to others. They’ve been demonstrated to be effective in practice for years in the healthcare community,” Judge Keyes, a former health professional, said.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the country, Gaines County is also experiencing an upswing. From Monday-Thursday of this past week, positive cases locally topped at 55. Total claims of the virus here, which turned into a worldwide pandemic in March 2020, has been 566. Nine deaths have been reported in Gaines County, 406 COVID patients have recovered, and 151 remain active.

The total number of positive cases in Dawson County has increased dramatically at 882, with 286 active, 588 recovered, and eight deaths. Terry County's positive cases have been 589 over the past seven months. They have had seven fatalities, 373 people have recovered, and 209 cases remain active. Yoakum County reports 37 active cases, 278 recoveries, and four deaths out of their total of 381. Reporting the lowest number has been Lynn County with 194 total cases. They have 63 active cases, 127 recoveries, and four residents have died due to the virus.

When asked by the Sentinel if the above protocols will be enough to slow the virus, Judge Keyes said the require ments put forward are enough to satisfy the governor’s requirements. “I think if the community embraces these public health safety standards, it will go a long way to stabilizing the current spike we see in new cases; and possibly prevent something more draconian coming from Austin.”

Many people in Seminole balk at the wearing of masks and Judge Keyes said it had become a problematic measure to enforce. “The masking requirements from Austin are so obscure that our law enforcement offcials do not feel they can impartially enforce the law. I understand their dilemma, a law that is clearly defined, black and white, like the trespass or assault laws are much easier to enforce,” Judge Keyes said.

In stores throughout Gaines County, many have displayed signs telling customers that masks are required. The judge presented a possible scenario: “So, if a store has a sign up that says masks are required, and a customer does not have a mask and is asked to leave, and he refuses to leave, he is trespassing and is subject to arrest and a Misdemeanor B charge. If he strikes the employee who asked him to leave, then he has committed assault, another Class B.” In essence, it’s up to the local businesses to enforce the rules they have posted and report those who break the rules to law enforcement.

Additional counties in Trauma Service Area B are Bailey, Borden, Castro, Cochran, Cottle, Crosby, Dawson, Dickens, Floyd, Gaines, Garza, Hale, Hockley, Kent, King, Lamb, Lubbock, Lynn, Motley, Scurry, Terry, and Yoakum.

“I know many of you think this is ridiculous, and it’s a hoax; that it will go away after the election. Some of those thoughts may be right, but COVID-19 is real. It is not a hoax. Maybe it isn’t as deadly as they first told us, but it is a delay for some.”

- Gaines County Judge Tom Keyes