Hopkins County Judge Has Filed For An Exemption To Opt Out Of Requirements
Governor Greg Abbott July 2 issued another Executive Order requiring all Texans to wear a face covering over the nose and mouth in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with a few exceptions. Local authorities say Hopkins County meets the terms for the exemption.
In addition to GA-29, Abbott The Governor also July 2 issued a proclamation giving mayors and county judges the ability to impose restrictions on some outdoor gatherings of over 10 people, and making it mandatory that, with certain exceptions, people cannot be in groups larger than 10 and must maintain 6 feet of social distancing from others.
He cited surges not only in the number of people testing positive daily for COVID-19, but also the positivity rate and an uptick in the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals.
“Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Governor Abbott in the announcement. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another—and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces. Likewise, large gatherings are a clear contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases. Restricting the size of group gatherings will strengthen Texas’ ability to corral this virus and keep Texans safe.”
Abbott said local law enforcement and other local officials as appropriate, in areas that are not approved as exempt “can and should enforce this executive order.” That may include verbal or written warnings for a first-time violator of this face-covering requirement, a fine up to $250 for a second violation. Each subsequent violation could be punishable by a fine not to exceed $250 per violation. Abbott was very clear, however, that under no circumstances are violators to be arrested and confined to jail.
GA-29 allows for exceptions for some counties to the facecovering order.
Not required to wear face-coverings will be the following:
- any person younger than 10 years of age;
- any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
- any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a
restaurant to eat or drink;
- any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in
physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other
people not in the same household;
- any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are
part of the same household as the driver;
- any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal;
- any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body
- any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poli watcher, or
actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
- any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious
worship, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged;
- any person while the person is giving a speech for a broadcast or to an
- any person in a county (a) that meets the requisite criteria provided by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) regarding minimal cases of COVID-19, and (b) whose county judge has affirmatively opted-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face-covering attestation form—provided, however, that wearing a face covering is highly recommended, and every county is strongly encouraged to follow these face-covering standards.
Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom and Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Endsley said Hopkins County meets the terms for the exemption to mask and distancing requirements, but do strongly encourage them in public.
Texas Department of Emergency Management, per GA-29, outlined the following steps for counties to be exempt
- The county must have 20 or less active COVID-19 cases.
- The county judge of a county with 20 or less active cases must submit an exemption form affirmatively opting out.
- Counties approved for exemption from the GA-29 face-covering requirement will be listed on the TDEM webpage.
At 3 p.m. July 2, the county emergency management team reported 15 new COVID-19 cases so far this week, with 41 total patients recovered and 26 active cases.
Newsom at the 5:45 p.m. news conference, however, reported that the county confirmed 6 additional people had recovered since the earlier news conference, which means the county is now down to 20 active cases out of the total 67 cases reported for Hopkins County since the pandemic began in March.
Thus, the county judge said, Hopkins County officials had the option of accepting the mask order or filing for an exemption because the county now has 20 cases. The judge filed the “attestation” application for the exemption.
“Because of our low number of cases we are not under the mask mandate,” Newsom said.
As of 6:10 p.m. July 2, TDEM had yet to list on its exemption page any counties that had approved for the exemption.
“We are encouraging those out in public to wear a mask and social distance, but it’s not a mandate,” the emergency management officials said.
GA-29 specifies that “any person attending a protest or demonstration involving more than 10 people and who is not practicing safe social distancing of six feet from other people not in the same household” will not be exempt from wearing a face mask.