The recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Comal County—249.5% between June 1 and June 20—elicited responses from the mayor of New Braunfels and the director of public health for Comal County.
“During the past couple of weeks, New Braunfels has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 tests," said Mayor Rusty Brockman in a statement issued June 17. "More and more of our community members are being directly impacted by this virus or know someone who is."
Of the 247 cases reported in the county from June 1 through June 20, New Braunfels residents accounted for 191. There were 346 cases in the county at the end of that time period, up from 99 cases at the end of May.
“It’s clear we are seeing a spike in cases driven by a lack of social distancing and the emergence for the first time of widespread community transmission in Comal County,” said Cheryl Fraser, Comal County Director of Public Health, on June 16.
Comal County was among several counties in Texas that have seen surges in reported cases since Gov. Greg Abbott began reopening the economy this month.
Neighboring Hays County elected to close its river parks on June 25 after more than 1,000 cases were reported in 11 days.
“We have witnessed our city’s case count skyrocket over the last week,” said San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson. “By preventing large gatherings of recreational visitors in nearby parks, we are doing our part to ensure our local health organizations don’t exceed capacity in treating seriously ill patients."
Bexar County reported more than 1,500 cases this past week and case investigations by the county showed that 25% resulted from community transmission.
“The number of COVID-19 cases in our community has been increasing at an alarming rate, and health experts have emphasized that masks are our best line of defense,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg in a press release issued June 17. “To win the fight against the coronavirus, it is essential that people in our community wear a mask when in close proximity to someone from outside their household.”
To counter the spike in cases, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued Executive Order NW-10, which dictates that all commercial entities must, at a minimum, require all employees and visitors wear "face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public where six feet of separation is not feasible."
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra announced a similar order that goes into effect June 22.
“I feel it’s necessary to issue an order to slow the aggressive spread of this relentless virus," Becerra said. "This pandemic is far from over. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”
According to a Comal County official, Comal County Judge Sherman Krause was reviewing these types of orders and discussing them with local mayors and businesses to determine the right step for the county, but had not yet made a decision on the subject.
Neither has New Braunfels issued an executive order of this type, but City Manager Robert Camareno said the COVID-19 situation was being closely monitored and gave an ambiguous answer about a potential order.
"Any decisions regarding COVID-19 measures will be shared with the community as soon as those decisions are finalized," Camareno said.
In Brockman's statement, he said that New Braunfels' residents can and should wear a mask when in public, wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, and use proper cough etiquette.
He also put some of the responsibility for the community's health on local businesses.
"Businesses also have a responsibility to help curb the transmission in their establishments," Brockman said. "They must follow the protocols issued by the governor and any additional requirements from their licensing agency. It’s imperative that they provide a safe and healthy environment for their patrons and for their employees."
However, the city has effectively declined to enforce social distancing measures outlined under Abbot's executive orders for reopening the state's economy, which allows for written warnings or fines of up to $1,000.
"The city, in partnership with local businesses, are all working hard to provide an environment where social distancing is possible for those that choose to visit our parks, rivers, restaurants, and shops," Camareno said. "Our goal is to educate and seek voluntary compliance."
The closing of Brockman's statement tied residents, businesses and government officials together in their duty to fight the virus, but the city and county appear to have washed their hands of COVID-19, at least for now.
"Putting an end to this virus is up to all of us," Brockman said. "We all have to do our part to stop COVID-19."
New Braunfels and Comal County officials acknowledge surge in COVID-19 cases; neighboring counties take action
Hays County and Bexar County told businesses they must require masks, but Comal County and New Braunfels have yet to follow suit as the spread of COVID-19 accelerates. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)