The Kaufman County Commissioner’s Court on Monday mandated the use of face coverings in commercial establishments throughout the county, and the Terrell City Council on Tuesday endorsed the move in response to surging COVID-19 cases locally.

County Health Officer Dr. Benjamin Brashear told council members that what he finds most worrisome is big increases in hospitalizations. “I’m more concerned that I was only two weeks ago,” Brashear said.

As of July 1, total confirmed COVID-19 infections in Kaufman County stood at 586, with 212 of those active. Four deaths had been reported. One of those deaths was that of Bill Barker, 75, of Terrell. Baker, former Kaufman County Republican Party chairman, was admitted to Baylor University Medical Center on June 11 after testing positive with COVID-19. After a few days, he went into cardiac arrest while being transferred to a ventilator, according to a social media post by the Republican Party of Kaufman County.

As of June 29, Kaufman County had seen about 10 county employees test positive for the virus, with all but one case at the main courthouse building.  “What kicked this whole thing off was the situation in the courthouse last week,” County Judge Hal Richards said at Monday’s emergency meeting of the commissioner’s court. “A lot of the people working in the courthouse are extremely nervous about the situation.”

According to Brashear, hospitalizations in Texas have soared from 1,700-1,800 a day in May to over 6,000. The percentage of people testing positive for the virus also has risen, to about 14 percent.

“Over all, that’s pretty alarming to me,” Brashear said.

He traced the surge in new daily cases to June 8, when an uptick became apparent. The county experienced a major spike in cases on June 24, when 116 new cases were reported, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS).

Brashear urged people to remain vigilant against the virus, stating, “I want to make sure the gravity of the situation is clear to everybody.”

On Monday, commissioners issued an order calling for commercial establishments to post health and safety plans, which require staff and customers to wear facemasks when social distancing is not feasible. Additionally, commissioners ordered all county employees and visitors to Kaufman County buildings to wear a face covering unless six feet of social distancing can be maintained.

The city council’s action Tuesday throws the city’s enforcement power behind the county’s order. Under the ordinance, those who enter a commercial business must obey any health and safety protocols in place. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to $1,000 per violation.

City Manager Mike Sims stressed that the city will impose penalties only as a last resort. It prefers that people comply voluntarily.

More than 1 million people in Texas have lost jobs due to the pandemic, Sims noted. If you want those people to get back to work, we’ve got to be able to stem the tide of this disease,” he said. “One of simplest things to do is to put a mask on when you go into a business” as well as practice other measures outlined by the Centers for Disease Control.

Said Mayor Rick Carmona: “We don’t want to control your lives, we want to save lives and get things back to normal.”

Brashear said he can not offer scientific certainty that mask wearing prevents the spread of COVID-19. The data is incomplete with regard to COVID-19. But experience with other airborne pathogens points to the benefit of masks in limiting the spread of infectious droplets.

Brashear also debunked notions that contracting COVID-19 is like getting the flu. The viruses are different in the way they are transmitted and behave in the body, he explained. COVID-19 can trigger a severe inflammatory response in the lungs. Also, virus particles can attack other organs, such as the gastrointestinal tract, the kidneys, brain and nervous system. The virus can prompt cardio-vascular events such as heart attacks.

Although tens of millions of Americans are infected with the flu every year, deaths generally range in the 30,000 to 40,000 range. Over the past six months, COVID-19 has infected far fewer people but caused more than 125,000 deaths.

In other COVID-19 related news, Dustin Conner, the city’s emergency response coordinator, reported that 266 people were tested during a walk-up testing event on June 24 at Willie Elementary School. Of those tested, 26 came back positive and 183 were negative. The remaining 58 tests had not been reported as of June 30.

Finally, he reported that a Terrell police officer who tested positive last week is doing well. All officers who worked the same shift were tested. The entire police facility and vehicles utilized by that shift were sanitized.

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