For the second day in a row, Victoria County has set a new record for the number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in a single day.
Twenty-one cases of COVID-19 were reported in Victoria County on Thursday, surpassing Wednesday’s case count of 14. Thursday’s surge puts the county’s case count at 248 with 163 recovered. Eight people have died.
“I’m very concerned because the number of cases continues to grow and the number of hospitalizations in Texas continues to rise,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s public health authority. “The higher the active case count goes, the more opportunities there are for the virus to spread.”
As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge across the state, city and county officials in some of Texas’s densest regions have figured out a way to impose facial covering requirements while complying with Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders.
Victoria Mayor Rawley McCoy said he is evaluating the new orders that have cropped up, including one in Bexar County that Abbott’s press office told the Texas Tribune is “not inconsistent with the governor’s executive order.”
Abbott banned local governments from punishing people who don’t wear masks in public with fines or criminal penalties in an executive order issued June 3.
That ban has not changed; rather officials realized they could hold businesses responsible for requiring customers and staff to wear facial coverings.
Instead of people without masks facing fines or criminal penalties, fines will be imposed on businesses that do not comply.
The county judges in Bexar and Hidalgo were the first to sign such orders.
Monday through the end of June, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff’s order will mandate businesses require customers and staff to wear facial coverings when 6-foot separation is not feasible. Businesses found out of compliance can face fines up to $1,000.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler signed a similar order Wednesday that went into effect Thursday and will expire Aug. 15.
County Judge Ben Zeller could not be reached for comment Thursday, but McCoy said he has been speaking with several officials and examining these orders to see whether a local version would be in the best interest of Victoria residents.
“I always look into everything,” McCoy said. “But I want to make sure I understand the situation and where the health authorities suspect the weaknesses to be and see if what is happening in Bexar County and some of the larger cities is applicable to us.”
During a news conference last Friday, McCoy and Zeller both said their hands were tied from issuing more local orders that would not be trumped by Abbott’s statewide orders.
But these new orders illustrate that there are ways to issue additional restrictions at a local level that are in line with Abbott’s.
Still, there is a lot to consider, McCoy said.
“What happens in a scenario where a belligerent customer comes in and starts a scene because they want to proclaim their right not to wear a mask?” he said. “We’ve got to understand what happens then. Are there other laws that are broken not only to do it, but what is the practical implementation to make it stick?”
Jeff Lyon, president of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, said the orders could put businesses in difficult positions.
“I feel like if a business feels compelled to do that, then that is their choice,” he said. “I’d like to see how it is going to shake out in Bexar County. It is going to be interesting to see how it is enforced and some comments or feedback they get from the businesses if they are fined.”
During the course of several news briefings, McCoy has highlighted the public’s personal responsibility to wear masks and practice social distancing.
People relaxed as the number of COVID-19 cases went down, he said.
“When you see those numbers go down like they did, it is human nature and I think we’re all guilty of it,” he said. “We always said early on don’t expect this thing to go away and we have to watch it and be willing to take appropriate action.”
The city of Victoria and Victoria County will host a walk-up COVID-19 testing site in collaboration with the Department of State Health Services and Texas Military Department June 25 and 26 at the Victoria Community Center.
No appointment, doctor’s order or prescription will be required for testing, which will be provided at no cost.
With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking locally and surging statewide, the intersection of public safety and individual rights is critical to consider, McCoy said.
“Our individual rights are precious ... what separates us from other countries and societies is our freedom,” he said. “I’ve exercised my rights throughout my life, but there comes a time when you have to analyze and ask, is my individual right valid when the exercise of my right puts someone else’s health at peril?
“I mean, I don’t see people out complaining that they have to wear a seat belt.”
Lavaca County officials reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
Two cases were confirmed in Hallettsville, two in Moulton, one in Shiner and one in Yoakum. These new cases bring the county’s total case count to 28.
Of those patients, 19 have recovered and one has died, according to a Lavaca County officials.
The Texas Military Department tested 115 people for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing site in Moulton on Tuesday, said Egon Barthels, Lavaca County’s emergency management coordinator.
Calhoun County officials reported one new COVID-19 case on Thursday.
In total, 47 residents have tested positive for the virus.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has indicated that there are also five additional “probable” cases in the county, but these have not been confirmed yet through laboratory testing.
DSHS also estimates that about 45 people with COVID-19 in the county have recovered, although that number is an estimate and could change.
Three people in Calhoun County with COVID-19 have died.
Two new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Matagorda County on Thursday.
The new cases brings the county’s total to 97. Of those, 58 have recovered and five residents have died.
The new patients are a woman between the ages of 30 and 40 and a man between the ages of 20 and 30, according to the Matagorda Regional Medical Center.
Both patients are recovering at home.