County explains new mask mandate exemption rule

On Monday morning, Atascosa County EMS Director Don Penny provided an update to Commissioners Court on the current COVID-19 situation in the county.

As for COVID-19 outbreaks in the county, there was an outbreak at a nursing home this past weekend.

“Three employees tested positive and 11 residents also tested positive,” stated Penny. “At this time, ambulances have taken residents up to San Antonio. They have three left to transport out of there today.”

Penny was relayed the information on Sunday morning of the outbreak in which there were two positives at the time.

“We did a round of testing and that’s when we found the remaining 11 positives in the residents.”

Penny has been working with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to get a decomp team in place to sanitize the nursing home and get it back up and running. This is the second nursing home in Atascosa County that has been affected by COVID-19 since the pandemic first started.

New mask mandate exemption rule

On Oct. 17, the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) updated the criteria for counties to maintain exemption from the Texas Executive Order GA-29 face-covering requirement. Should a county exceed 30 new COVID-19 cases during a 14-day period, the county judge will be notified that the county has lost its exemption status and has been removed from the exemption list on the TDEM website.

This means, should Atascosa County exceed 30 new COVID-19 cases in a 14-day period, the mask mandate will be put back into place as required under Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-29.

“I’d like to clarify that this running total is not synced to the Region 8 totals that we publish every day,” said County Judge Bob Hurley. “It’s a different total from what they are running at the state level.”

Penny explained the running totals are coming from the state DSHS dashboard that can be found at coronavirus/TexasCOVID- 19CaseCountData.xlsx.

“It’s a rolling 14-day count, and once that total hits 30, we will lose our exemption for the mask mandate.”

Judge Hurley explained that there is no grace period for this new rule. Once Atascosa County hits 30 running total cases in 14 days, the state puts the county back on the mask mandate with no exceptions.

“I need to remind everyone that this mask mandate is part of the Governor’s emergency order. It is law. It is not an option,” said Judge Hurley. “I’ve had people tell me that we should just ignore it. Well, we can’t at the county level. It’s the law and we have to follow the law, and that’s what we will do.”

If the county has 14 consecutive days under 30, then the county can reapply for exemption to the mask mandate.

“I want everyone to understand the rules and there may be rules that are modified by the DSHS, but it is the Governor’s orders that make it law, and we have no choice at the county but to follow the law. I know there is a lot of confusion to it, but this is the law.”

As of press time on Tuesday evening, Atascosa County has a total of 1,622 COVID-19 cases with 64 active, 1,541 recovered and 17 deaths. The mask mandate running totals as of press time were not available.

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