After original paperwork, county no longer mask exempt


Six healed COVID cases found in time to avoid mask requirement, but additional COVID diagnosed


Hopkins County originally believed they should be exempt from the statewide masking mandate, according to County Judge Robert Newsom, but later had to retract the statement as more were confirmed to have COVID-19. 

At 2 p.m. on July 2 Gov. Abbott issued an executive order requiring face coverings to be worn in counties with 20 or more active COVID-19 cases. The mandate requires that in counties with 20 active cases or fewer, county judges can send off an attestation to request an exception.

At 3 p.m. on July 2, the current daily update for Hopkins County was 26 active cases, but at 5:45 p.m., County Judge Robert Newsom stated the county "found six recoveries that had not been reported before" and therefore he did not believe the county would be required to abide by the Governor's mask mandate.

Newsom reported he had "just sent off... a few minutes ago" for the approval process to be added to the list of exempted counties.

"I filed an attestation with the Governor's office... my phone was getting blown up with questions about the mask requirements," Newsom said. "Because of our low number of cases, we are not under the mask mandate."

"We encourage people to wear masks and social distance, but it's not a mandate," Newsom added.  

The executive order signed by Gov. Abbott states that in addition to having fewer than 20 active cases, a county judge must "affirmatively opt-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with [the] Texas Department of Emergency Management the required face-covering attestation form." 

It is not clear whether or not Hopkins County is automatically approved to be exempt from the mask mandate by virtue of sending in their paperwork to the Governor's office.

Reactions to Newsom’s decision from citizens were mixed. 

“Thank you Judge Newsom for preserving our rights as free Americans to choose how we want to live,” said citizen Melissa Harris. “Those that wish to wear: no judgement. [Those that do not] please do the same,” Harris said. 

“I don't want to get this disease and die from it, although dying would only get me to Heaven sooner,” said citizen Liz Hollingsworth. “I support our governor and believe we all need to be wearing masks.”

Some expressed mistrust of the county’s publication of COVID-19 infection case numbers. 

“Just a little small town proof that Covid cases are often faked,” said citizen Yadira Valdez. “How convenient that exactly six cases were ‘found’ to be recovered.”

You have got to be kidding me! I knew the numbers would magically align,” said citizen Kasey Curtin. “How convenient.

Cumby citizen R. Eldridge formed a petition to have Newsom withdraw the affirmation sent to the Governor’s office, making Hopkins County subject to the mask mandate. 

I believe in trying to reduce the spread of pathogens by wearing masks in public,” Eldridge wrote. “I fully understand many people don't want to be inconvenienced, however, I... believe the recent recommendations by CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] that wearing masks will reduce the spread of COVID-19 pathogen.”

The petition gained 39 signatures online as of noon on July 7.  

Others expressed they believed whether or not citizens wore masks “did not matter.” 

“Anybody realize it doesn’t matter?” asked citizen Alex Ferrell. 

“This is just like the ‘stay at home’ order,” said citizen Kathryn Mabe. “There were so many exemptions, why bother?”

As of noon on Monday, nearby counties such as Cass and Delta appear on the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) list of exempted counties, but Hopkins did not.  

At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Hopkins County emergency management reported that over the weekend, case numbers had gone up to a cumulative total of 71 confirmed cases and 50 recoveries. 

However, this now put the county at 21 active cases, according to Newsom, so the judge stated he planned to redact his affirmation and the county would now be under GA29, mandatory masks.

The county must stay under the mask order for the next 30 days, Newsom stated, regardless of whether or not there are fewer than 20 cases. The county can reapply at the end of that 30 days, Newsom stated.

There are no patients in the COVID patients in the isolation unit at the hospital, emergency management coordinator Andy Endsley reported.

The state reported a COVID-19 death over the weekend. "We have no idea why y'all are even seeing that... that has not been in the radar in our system," Endsley said. "That's wrong even though it's a state dashboard... unless it's from us, it's not official."

This marks the third time the state has reported a death in Hopkins County and county emergency management has challenged the death.

The State reported a death on June 19 and an additional death on June 21. The state removed these deaths June 23 and 25, respectively.