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New policies put in place as mask mandate lifts

By Dawn Burleigh

Marking the first day Texans can decide for themselves if they should wear a mask, many businesses and schools continue to announce their new policies and guidelines for mask requirements.

The City of Orange will require people in city buildings to wear a mask in areas where they are unable to social distance.

“We can continue with mask mandates in public areas,” City Manager Mike Kunst said in the Tuesday morning city council meeting.

He pointed out the open meeting disaster guidelines remain in place which allows for teleconferencing or video conferencing.

Council agreed if social distancing was possible, one would not be required to wear a mask.

Council member Terrie Salter said it was a great idea.

“You can’t take a chance,” Salter said. “Wearing mask is something you can do. COVID is a real thing and we still need to take all precautions. That is from a nurse’s perceptive.”

Salter added she lost a friend over the weekend due to COVID.

Council member Paul Burch, who is also a business owner in Orange, added he supports the decision.

“In our business, [hair stylists] we have to wear masks,” Burch said. “You can’t cut hair and social distance. For the safety of our customers and staff, we will wear masks.”

Mayor Larry Spears Jr said the city has supported the actions of the governor.

“This order states masks are no longer mandated. I encourage people to wear one if they feel the need or desire to wear one,” Spears said. “You have every right to wear a mask. We are not taking that away from you”

Governor Abbott, in Executive Order GA 34, stated, “l. In all counties not in an area with high hospitalizations as defined below:

a. there are no COVID-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment; and

b. individuals are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household, but no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering.

“Area with high hospitalizations” means any Trauma Service Area that has had seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity exceeds 15 percent, until such time as the Trauma Service Area has seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients as a percentage of total hospital capacity is 15 percent or less. A current list of areas with high hospitalizations will be maintained at www.dshs.texas.gov/ga3031.

2 In any county located in an area with high hospitalizations as defined above:

a. there are no state-imposed COVID-19-related operating limits for any business or other establishment;

b. there is no state-imposed requirement to wear a face covering; and

c. the county judge may use COVID-19-related mitigation strategies; provided, however. that:

i. business and other establishments may not be required to operate at less than 50 percent of total occupancy, with no operating limits allowed to be imposed for religious services (including those conducted in churches,

congregations, and houses of worship), public and private schools and

institutions of higher education, and child-care services;

  1. In providing or obtaining services, every person (including individuals, businesses, and other legal entities) is strongly encouraged to use good-faith efforts and

available resources to follow the Texas Department of State Health Services

(DSHS) health recommendations, found at www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus.

  1. Nothing in this executive order precludes businesses or other establishments from requiring employees or customers to follow additional hygiene measures, including the wearing of a face covering.

On Tuesday, the day before the masks mandate officially lifts, there were 4,329 lab confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas Hospitals. Of those, 205 were in the Trauma Service Area (TSA) R which serves Orange County.

2020 Population Estimate – 1,309,237

Total Staffed Hospital Beds – 1,959

Available Hospital Beds – 325

Available ICU Beds – 19

Available Ventilators – 268

Lab-Confirmed COVID-19 Patients Currently In Hospital – 205​​​​​​​

Total Hospitalizations – 1,392

Total Staffed Inpatient Beds – 1,717

According to a press release from Lamar State College Orange (LSCO), Abbott encouraged institutions of higher education to establish standards that are in line with Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidance.

The Executive Order states, “Public schools may operate as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by, the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Private schools and institutions of higher education are encouraged to establish similar standards.”

Based on this guidance, LSCO will maintain current COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, including requiring face coverings and limiting classroom density, as informed by the Texas Education Agency. Further, as part of The Texas State University System, LSCO is in continual contact with the System Office to stay up-to-date to ensure full compliance.

Since last March, LSCO has worked diligently to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus. Wearing face coverings and reducing classroom density are two key tools to combat COVID-19 infection. The well-being of LSCO’s students, faculty, and staff remains the highest priority. LSCO will continue its cleaning, sanitizing, social distancing, and contact-tracing protocols in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

West Orange -Cove Consolidated ISD also will continue requiring masks. A press release from the district stated:

“Upon review of the updated guidelines from TEA concerning COVID protocols. West Orange-Cove CISD will continue to enforce mask-wearing on campuses, buses and continue ALL of our district COVID protocols because it is safe for our students and staff.”

Orangefield ISD is also keeping the masks in place according to a press release:

Although we believe this is a positive sign in the fight against COVID-19, many schools including Orangefield ISD have worked diligently with students, faculty, staff, parents, community, and our board of trustees to protect everyone from the spread of this disease using a variety of health-related protocols and procedures which include face coverings and masks.  Based on these practices, our schools have remained open and operational during this challenging time.

Below are the two most important reasons why our district will keep the mask protocol in place for the time being:

Governor’s Executive Order GA-34 (number 6) March 2, 2021

“Public schools may operate as provided by, and under the minimum standard of health protocols found in, guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).”

It should be noted that TEA did not rescind the mask mandate in their recent health protocol update as of March 4, 2021.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have not made any changes to the quarantine and close contacts guidance that our state and local health departments utilize with managing COVID-19 cases.

As a district we are experiencing face covering and mask exhaustion.  However, in order to safely continue operating efficiently and providing a quality education with support programs that include: graduation, prom, softball, baseball, track and field, and many more activities, it is necessary to adhere to TEA and the CDC guidance at this time.

Our district appreciates your understanding related to this current issue and as a district we will continue to monitor changes to the protocols and procedures for COVID-19.

“All of us are fatigued by this pandemic, now almost exactly a year to the day when the Department of State Health Services declared a public health disaster.  But if we keep pushing, day after day using sound public health practices…I’m confident the end of the pandemic will soon be in sight,” Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said.

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