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MARY MEAUX — To mask or not mask no longer an option

Earlier this week, I came up with this snazzy headline, which would lead to discussion on both sides of the issue.

And just like that (snaps finger), things changed.

There was the announcement from Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick on Tuesday afternoon saying people have to wear a mask when out and about under certain circumstances. In the executive order businesses take the brunt of the responsibility should a customer, or employee, not wear one.

And therein lies a problem and plenty of loopholes.

Commercial businesses that provide goods and services are required to develop and implement a health and safety policy requiring all employees and visitors to wear a face covering when in an area or performing an activity, which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public. Failing to develop and implement the plan can get the business owner a fine up to $1,000 for each violation.

What about the person who chooses not to wear a mask for his or her own personal reasons?

If wearing a face mask poses a greater mental or physical health, safety or security risk, then that person is not required to do so.

And the business is not allowed to ask the person’s mental or physical condition. So technically one can go to a store not wearing a mask and not give an explanation?

With all that businesses, especially the mom-and-pop ones, having dealt with the state’s closing, here is another issue — a possible hefty fine if the customer or employee doesn’t follow the rules.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference recently that COVID-19 is “spreading at an unacceptable rate in the state of Texas and it must be corralled.”

He called on Texans to follow safety protocol developed by the state’s team of medical experts, including staying at home if you are sick or at risk, sanitizing your hands, social distancing and wearing face covering or masks.

The Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, whose mission is to develop and sustain a powerful coalition of providers, responders and other healthcare related partners united to save lives and improve health outcomes through research, education and collaboration, is closely monitoring COVID-19.

Their website, setrac.org, has a COVID executive hospital summary for the state allowing a search for counties.

On Wednesday there were six suspected COVID patients admitted to hospitals in Jefferson County, 14 COVID hospitalized/ventilated and 46 adult ventilators in use with 44 available adult vents.

Countywide, there’ve been 1,447 cases including 32 deaths for a 2.2% fatality rate, according to the site.

Let’s put away our differences of opinion on this and do what we can to slow down the spread of this illness.

Mary Meaux is a news reporter at The Port Arthur News. She can be reached at mary.meaux@panews.com