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County seeking face covering exemption

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While the number of total COVID-19 cases in Bandera County continued growing this week, the number of active cases stayed under five by one key measure, which allowed local officials to seek an exemption from the requirement that face coverings be worn by the residents and visitors when in a public or private area where six-feet of distance cannot be kept between each other.

Bandera County had not been under the face covering mandate imposed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott until July 9, when its active COVID-19 case count jumped past 20, the trigger for the mandate to apply.

Since then, the controversial mandate has been the rule in the county, even though a sizeable number of people consider it an unnecessary imposition on their rights and have not complied.

Counties have the opportunity to seek an exemption from the mandate if their active COVID count falls below 20 for 30 straight days.

Bandera County Emergency Management Coordinator Carey Reed said the count in the county met that requirement on Wednesday, Aug. 19, and she has submitted documentation to the Texas Division of Emergency Management to see if it agrees that the low-infection count milestone had been met.

As of Monday, Aug. 24, no response had been received from the state, Reed said.

Complicating the issue is the fact that different agencies have different counts of the COVID caseload by county.

Texas’ Department of State Health Services has at least two measures of the caseload, and one has the active COVID caseload in Bandera County above 20, while the other has it well under.

The count used by Bandera County officials is from the Department of State Health Services’ regional report, which said the county had 113 total cases but only two cases that were still active as of Monday, Aug. 24.

One-hundred-and-one cases had re covered, and one fatality from the outbreak had been recorded in the county on Monday, Region 8 officials with DSHS said.

The active COVID case count reached four in Bandera County on Aug. 17 but has been below that ever since, according to Region 8 numbers.

Both Reed and Bandera County Judge Richard Evans said they felt the regional numbers were the best ones to use, but neither was certain that was the calculation used by the Division of Emergency Management in deciding whether to release the face covering mandate.

Reed said she could not even guess at whether the numbers from Region 8 would be strong enough for emergency management to drop the mandate locally, but she expected a decision soon.

She was not aware of any suspicious cases in the county that could add to the active case count. The county does have about 20 cases under investigation each day, but the count of patients who have recovered from the virus has grown so fast, the number of active cases has stayed small, Reed said.

She and Evans also said they did not expect to see the COVID count jump considerably now that school is back in session in Bandera, and about 72 percent of the parents had decided to send youngsters back to class in person rather than having students learn remotely.

Both officials said the Bandera Independent School District had developed a good safety plan involving health checkups and keeping enough space between students during the day to fight the pandemic. They felt Bandera schools may have created safer environments for youngsters than those they often found themselves in during the summer.

Evans said he would be surprised if the caseload did not grow some because of the opening of school, but he did not expect the jump to be serious.

“Of course, nobody knows,” the judge said.