‘THE TIME HAS COME FOR THIS’: Titus County judge issues face mask order to slow spread of COVID-19

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TITUS COUNTY, Texas (KETK) – Titus County Judge Brian Lee has taken what he called a “bold step” in an effort to protect county residents against further spread of COVID-19.

He took that step in part as a result of another case reported in the county, bringing the tally to 9.

In an announcement via Facebook Live, Lee said he was notified of the new case by a doctor, who had tested the patient on Wednesday and gotten back the positive result on Friday, when he notified the judge.

The patient is female and in the 40-49 year old age range, Lee said. She works for what he characterized as a “high-volume employer” and lives in “a multi-person household.”

Those two factors are what worry him about this case.

He said he fully expects that when the other members of the household are tested, they, too, will turn up positive for COVID-19.

More than that, though, he said he fears the potential of a spike in numbers at the patient’s workplace.

“Even though the employer has very strong and very good procedures in place to minimize the damage that one or more individuals could cause,” he said, “I hate to use the word ‘outbreak,’ but this is the kind of employer where we could have a potential outbreak.”

“It just takes one person, regardless of how stringent or how good the procedures the employer has in place,” he said.

That understanding of what one infected person could do – and, worse, what multiple infected people could do – prompted him to take what he called his “bold step.”

In his Facebook Live appearance, Lee announced an order requiring all county residents to wear face masks or some kind of face covering while shopping at any retailer, big or small, and picking up or delivering food from a restaurant.

In addition, his order requires all employees to wear face masks while working, no matter where they work, and requires all businesses to make hand sanitizer available at their doors for customers to use.

Those customers will be required to sanitize their hands before entering.

“I know we’ll get a lot of pushback” on the order, Lee said, “and this really goes against my beliefs. But I do believe the time has come for this.”

The order was issued after a conference call with a number of representatives from the local hospital, emergency services, schools, and local government.

He said he spent more than an hour on the call with some 25 people, and everyone on the call agreed.

“We don’t take this lightly,” Lee said, “none of us. But we are in agreement. It was a unanimous decision.”

He said the decision was motivated in part by what he described as an attitude of complacency he was witnessing among county residents.

“I hear it from you, I see it myself,” he said. “We’re comfortable with the numbers. Eight, no big deal. We’re relaxing, our stores are relaxing, the customers are relaxing. We’re bringing more and more people to shop with us, families are bringing kids, not worrying about the social distancing. And the more lax we get, the more we open ourselves up for problems.”

He mentioned Governor Greg Abbott’s press conference Friday laying out a preliminary plan to begin opening up Texas and rescuing the state’s economy, and Lee said he hoped to do the same for Titus County. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for that lay not with him, he said, but with the residents.

“Consumer behavior is going to drive the results here in this community,” he said.

“It’s tough for these employers and for these big box stores to get customers to abide by the rules,” Lee said. “We can’t expect them to be constantly talking to us and forcing us to do something that we’re not thinking about or that we’re not interested in doing.”

Instead, Lee said, “we want to transfer some of this responsibility to us as individual residents of the county, to us, the shopping consumer. We need to take that individual responsibility, and we believe that requiring everyone to wear a facial covering transfers a lot of that responsibility over to the individual consumer.”

Lee also urged other steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the county.

He asked residents to “continue to minimize the number of people in your party.” To those who bring the entire family along while shopping, “we’re going to continue to ask you to find a way around that. Your target should be one shopper at a time.”

Children who accompany parents “are going to be wearing masks as well,” and retailers will be providing hand sanitizer at their doors.

“We’re covering the face and taking care of the hands,” Lee said.

“We know that if all customers complied 100%, it would make the job of the retail store a whole lot easier,” he said. “But we’re not doing that. All consumers need to be responsible, and we believe that this puts some of that responsibility on us.”

“We know that masks work,” Lee said, “not so much as a preventative for us, but it keeps others safe from us.”

Wearing them, he said, is a simple way to fulfill one’s responsibility to the wider community.

With more and more people wearing masks and the increasing number of videos showing how to make masks, both with and without sewing required (tutorials here and here), “there’s no reason we can’t find a way to cover our faces.”

It is not a solution that anyone loves, Lee acknowledged, but it is reality.

“The governor’s message was simple. We’re trying to reopen Texas. And my message is simple, too. We’re trying to reopen Titus County. We’ve got a lot of people out of work, we’ve got a lot of businesses closed, and we have got to begin the trip back to normalcy. We believe that this step here, at least for the next couple of weeks, (will help). We need to get used to facial coverings.”

“Again, I’m sorry we’re having to do this,” he said. “I don’t like it any more than you do. But I believe that in order for us to live a relatively normal lifestyle and still be able to shop and still purchase food, we need to show our commitment, we need to do our part, and we need to stop expecting Walmart and Lowe’s to be the bad guys and stop us every time we’re doing something wrong.”

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