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Coronavirus growth in county slows

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  • Coronavirus growth in county slows
    Rhonda Browning, a facemask-wearing employee of Boyle’s Bandera True Value hardware store, second from right, helps customer Kelly Lema, also in a mask at right, check out on Saturday, July 18. More people appear to be wearing facemasks in public to fig

After soaring earlier in the month, the COVID-19 caseload in Bandera County rose gradually in the week ending on Monday, July 20, jumping by 4 to 52 total cases and by three active cases to 25, according to totals compiled for the Department of State Health Services Region 8, which includes Bandera County.

It did not mark a new record for the county since a high of 54 COVID cases was reported last week, only to fall to 53 on Friday, July 17, and to 52 on Monday; but it did demonstrate that the caseload was still well above the level reached even as recently as July 6, when 27 total cases were reported.

Bandera County’s count continued to show that it was one of the fortunate counties not to experience a death attributed to the pandemic.

Twenty-seven of the 52 cases reported on Monday were characterized as recovered, which was up by one from a week earlier, and 19 were listed as either “probable” cases or cases that were “pending investigation,” a decrease of four from a week earlier.

“We’re not having an explosion of cases, which is a good thing,” said Bandera County Judge Richard Evans.

But he also said it was probably too soon to say the slowdown was the result of the implementation of additional health safeguards, like the closing of bars and river outfitters which were viewed as services likely to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus or the implementation of a mandate that people were facemasks covering their noses and mouths when outside the home.

That mandate only became effective in Bandera County on July 13 when the active case count exceeded 20 cases.

“I don’t know that’s the total reason (for the slowing caseload),” said Evans. “I don’t think anybody does.”

It did appear that more people in Bandera were wearing masks when out in public last week, though it was by no means a universally accepted practice.

And both Bandera City Marshal Will Dietrich and Bandera County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Matt King said the governor’s July 2 executive order mandating the use of facemasks was probably unenforceable.

Dietrich said in a post on the marshal’s Facebook page that the language of the executive order “strips law enforcement of any fundamental tools necessary to enforce compliance” with the mandate. As a result, the marshal wrote, his office could not issue citations to people for not wearing masks in public.

The marshal also said businesses in the city could require masks to be worn by customers or employees. If a customer refuses to wear a mask and a business call law enforcement to remove that individual, the person could be arrested for criminal trespass, as allowed in the governor’s order, Dietrich said.

It was unlikely that scenario had arisen in Bandera since many of the bigger retailers in town said they required that employees wear masks and asked customers to, even putting up signs advising shoppers to wear masks, but did not make that recommendation a mandate for customers.

King agreed that shoppers in businesses with facemask mandates could be cited for trespass if they refuse to wear the safety device while in the store and do not leave, but he said the mandate appeared to be unenforceable outside of those circumstances.

No one had provided the sheriff’s office with a directive on how to properly enforce it, the chief deputy said.

Bandera Mayor Suzanne Schauman said earlier this week that she was aware of the marshal’s directive on the facemask matter and had asked the state Attorney General for an opinion as to whether the language of the executive order makes it unenforceable.

As of Monday, July 20, she had not gotten a response.

“It’s really a controversial subject right now,” said Schauman. “I just don’t think there is an answer to it”

The mayor has agreed to allow the Bandera Business Association to move forward with its celebration of the Day of the American Cowboy on Saturday, July 25, even though the 200 or so people it is expected to attract is larger than the crowd limit the governor has recommended for public events as a safeguard against COVID-19.

Schauman said she felt she could not endorse an order that allows as many as 750 people to gather in Bandera City Park on weekends and not allow a much smaller crowd to take in festivities on the county courthouse grounds for the Day of the Cowboy.

She said City Council will have to endorse that decision for the order to be extended through the weekend.

A new interactive tool created by Georgia Tech University researchers that transforms caseload data into an estimate of the chance that at least one person with coronavirus would be present in a crowd of 100 people in a county listed the current risk in Bandera County at 66 percent, according to a story in the San Antonio Express-News on Sunday, July 19.

That was lower than Bexar County’s chances, 99 percent, Medina County’s chances, 94 percent, Kerr County’s chances, 86 percent, and many other counties statewide. Kendall County was the only county listed in the story with a lower percentage than Bandera’s – 56 percent.

Statewide, COVID-19 continued to grow rapidly last week.

As of Monday, July 20, the Department of State Health Services reported 332,434 cases in Texas, including an estimated 177,871 cases that had recovered. On July 12, the Texas caseload stood at 258,658.

The pandemic also is believed to be responsible for 4,020 deaths in Texas as of the beginning of the week. The death toll from COVID in Texas eight days earlier had been 828 fewer.