Wearing masks in public is now mandatory in Anderson County, until further notice.
Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday proclaimed all Texans in counties with 20 or more active cases of COVID-19 must wear masks in public. Up to now, more than half the shoppers in mosts local stores did not wear masks.
State Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) said Abbott's order “treads on individual liberties for rural Texans."
“I don't envy the hard decisions (the governor) has to make,” Harris said. “I also don’t believe that we should have to live under the same mandates as cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston.”
Harris, who urged constituents to take “the right precautions and use common sense,” said he would express his concerns to the governor.
Fueled by a record 10 new cases on Tuesday, Anderson County reached 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including 94 cases in which people have already recovered. That leaves the county with 51 active cases, the highest number ever.
Anderson County has no confirmed COVID-related deaths.
The governor's proclamation also authorizes banning, with certain exceptions, outdoor gatherings of more than 10, and requiring people in groups to maintain social distancing of at least six feet.
Any gathering of more than 10 must be approved by either County Judge Robert Johnston or Mayor Steve Presley.
Cotton masks do not protect the wearer from contracting the coronavirus but they do prevent the wearer from spreading the virus to others. That's important because up to half the cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic. Such carriers probably don't know they have the coronavirus, so they don't take precautions against spreading it.
Johnston urged people to practice social distancing when attending family gatherings over the holiday weekend.
“We tend to let our guard down when we're around family,” Johnston said. “It's hard to separate, just because they're family – but that doesn't mean someone is not carrying the virus.”
Locally, many recent cases of COVID-19 have come from families, Johnston said.
“As families start getting together, someone is going to have the virus without knowing it, and it's going to spread,” he said.
Anderson County reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 30. Since then, the county has averaged one to two new cases a day.
In recent weeks, however, after the governor started to reopen the economy on May 1, the county has reported new cases at a much faster pace. “During the shutdown, we didn't have six, eight, or 10 new cases in a day,” Johnston said.
The United States is the worst-affected country, with more than 2.5 million diagnosed cases and more than 125,000 deaths. On Wednesday, the United States recorded 52,000 new cases, a record daily high.
As of Thursday, Texas reported 175,977 confirmed cases, including 2,525 fatalities, with 90,720 cases reported as having recovered.