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Caldwell County officials navigating implications of Governor Abbott lifting mask order

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By Kristen Meriwether, Editor LPR

In an executive order signed March 2 Governor Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate for the state of Texas, putting the onus of wearing a mask on citizens. The executive order also supersedes any orders by local officials but does allow for businesses to require masks to enter their establishment. The new rules take effect March 10.

The Lockhart City Council met just hours after the announcement was made. For a city that hosts numerous festival and outdoor events, how to regulate those events to keep residents safe was top of mind.

“There is nothing in the order that specifically addresses festivals or events, so one would assume that they are allowed,” City attorney Monte Akers said at the March 2 City Council meeting.

Mayor Lew White asked about public gatherings, but Akers said there was nothing specific about that either. Akers said the city could attempt to put guidelines in place for festivals or events but could not be more restrictive than what the Governor ordered—which was not specific about limitations on festivals or events.

“We have several big festivals on the horizon, and we need to know whether it’s going to be up to them to restrict their own movement,” Mayor White said.

Businesses or entities can require a facial covering and can ask a patron to leave if they don’t comply. Business owners can call the police and report someone for trespassing if they don’t leave, but they can’t be fined or arrested for not wearing a mask.

The way the order is written, if a Trauma Service Area has seven days in which the number of COVID hospitalized patients exceeds 15 percent of total patients, the county judge could take action. But the judge could not reduce business capacity to less than 50 percent occupancy and could not impose any penalty for not wearing a mask.

LPR reached out to Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden to get his thoughts on what he would do if TSA O goes above 15 percent.

“Because of the inability to enforce it, I will likely not issue a mask order,” Judge Haden said by phone March 2.

LPR asked if masks would be required at the Caldwell County Courthouse.

“Before he [Governor Abbott] issued the mask order, we did not require it,” Judge Haden said. “So now that he has rescinded it, we will not require it.”

If residents feel like wearing a facial covering, they are welcome to do so in the Courthouse.

The Lockhart City Council moved to keep the public disaster in place for the time being, meaning facial coverings will still be required at all City buildings. It is unclear how they will handle non-compliance.

The City resolution which requires businesses to have a sign on the door advising wearing a mask is no longer required, but the Mayor said businesses who choose to still require masks at their stores can keep them up.

“I hope the majority of our businesses still support and practice safe practices,” Mayor White said. “I urge and ask the citizens to remain vigilant and to practice good COVID protocols.”

The Lockhart Independent School District issued a statement from Superintendent of Schools Mark Estrada on March 2 saying LISD will continue to require everyone to wear masks and maintain the safety measures and protocols they have followed all year.

The main issue for the district was the lack of vaccinated teachers in the 1B group, as well as teachers in the general population who are not even eligible for the vaccine yet.

According to DSHS data 1,578 people have been fully vaccinated in Caldwell County and 15,924 are currently eligible for the vaccine under 1A or 1B status. The county has a total population of 43,664, according to 2019 U.S. Census data.

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