Commissioners and officials discussed how the county is handling the coronavirus outbreak, noting the positivity rate remains comparatively low and hospitalizations of county residents are stable. County Judge Mark Keough maintained he will not be enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s statewide order requiring the use of face masks in public spaces.
“How do you get 600,000 people to wear masks? Make sure they wash their hands?” asked Keough, who was not wearing a mask.
Several other commissioners and officials present were not wearing masks.
County officials have historically advocated for voluntary compliance as well as pushed for respecting “civil liberties” and a faster reopening amid the pandemic. Community Impact Newspaper reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office for comment as to what the consequences could be if a county does not enforce a state order but has not received a response.
Jason Millsaps, chief of staff for Keough, said Montgomery County’s case count is not keeping up with its population size. The county is the 11th largest in the state but ranks 19th in total cases, and the positivity rate is 7.45%, he said.
“Montgomery county’s hospitalizations have stayed pretty level. Hospitals are doing fairly OK,” Millsaps said, adding most of the hospitalizations in the county hospitals comes from non-Montgomery County residents.
However, the county reported its largest daily increases in active and total COVID-19 cases July 14, along with two additional deaths related to the disease.
Commissioners also approved extending the county’s disaster declaration, which makes it easier for the county to procure items related to COVID-19 response, officials said. The declaration has been regularly extended throughout the pandemic.
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack questioned the extension, asking if it would make the county “more or less subjective” to Abbott’s orders.
“What happens if we don’t approve this?” Noack asked. “How long are we going to consider ourselves to be in this state? ... Are we better off by saying we are not going to extend our declaration, and let’s wait and see what happens?”
Millsaps explained the local disaster declaration is related to procurement and using coronavirus relief funding and cannot supersede the governor’s orders.
“We’ve never experienced a time when we needed to be under a disaster declaration for so long, and I’m just curious as to when we’re going to be out of this,” Noack said.