At a Monday afternoon press conference following a week in which Brazos County saw 379 new cases of COVID-19, local officials expressed divergent viewpoints on a potential mask-use requirement for businesses even as all urged residents to employ a variety of best-health practices to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan said 68% of the past week’s cases are a result of community spread and 46% are in the 18- to 24-year-old age group. Brazos County’s positivity rate — the number of positive COVID-19 tests compared to the total number — for the week of June 13 to June 19 was 24.39%, the highest positivity rate to date. It was just under 10% the previous week.

“There must be a balance between reopening the economy and preventing the further spread of COVID-19,” Sullivan said. “Indeed, to continue opening our economy, there needs to be a break on how much COVID-19 is spreading.”

Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said he has received “a lot” of emails encouraging a mask requirement for businesses, but that it isn’t something on which he supports a mandate. A few emails have come in in opposition to a mask requirement, he said. 

“Personally, I’m not to the point that I think we ought to mandate masks, but it’s certainly something we ought to be encouraging people to do,” Peters said.

“Masks are not the end-all, be-all. If that’s all we were doing was putting on masks, we would not slow this disease down. We still have to do all the things that have been pointed out by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention],” Peters said. “Masks are a tool in the tool box.”

College Station Mayor Karl Mooney said that the city’s council will discuss a possible face-mask requirement during the workshop portion of its Thursday meeting.

“I take a little bit of a different stance than the judge does. My stance over the past week or so has morphed a bit,” Mooney said at the press conference. “While masks aren’t the end-all and be-all, they are a tool. If we just stop and say, well, we don’t have to wear masks, then we’re just making it more likely that particularly our susceptible age-group is going to experience the illness.

“Quite honestly, some of the messages that I got — folks are scared,” Mooney said. “If there’s something I can do to help them be able to go to the store, feeling safer, feeling more confident, and perhaps not having to deal with all of the people who aren’t wearing masks, then I think that might be the right step.”

Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson told The Eagle last week that he did not see the need for a mask mandate for businesses, and said Monday that he would continue to urge best practices to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We’re all concerned, and I guess I would do everything I can to encourage people to, through their exhaustion, through this ‘corona-thon,’ to keep up the good work,” Nelson said Monday.

Sullivan reminded the community that COVID-19 can be spread by those who are not showing symptoms of the virus.

“The point of the mask is that even before those symptoms are present, we could be contagious. So the idea of a covering helps decrease those secretions to the environment and to our fellow neighbors,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said Brazos County health care providers have administered 12,318 tests for COVID-19, which is the same as Sunday’s total. To date, 25 Brazos County residents have died after being treated for COVID-19. The most recent death was reported June 13.

There were 31 Brazos County residents hospitalized Monday, which is four more than Sunday’s total and the most hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic. Nine people were discharged from the hospital Monday. Sullivan said that overall, 52 people are hospitalized in Brazos County hospitals, a figure that includes 21 non-county residents.

“Local hospitals are at 65% capacity. This percentage is fluid — very fluid — and changes by the hour,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that hospital beds are not the only metric by which hospital capacity is measured, with staffing and equipment levels also important to monitor.

“The concern is the cases that we have — the pressure that it puts on our vulnerable population, and that vulnerable population requiring hospitalization, ICU and ventilator resources,” Sullivan said. “This is what we have seen in other areas of the country, which we want nothing to do with here.”

Monday’s update included data indicating that 50.4% of cases in the county are among Hispanic or Latino individuals. Today, 31% of cases are among white individuals and 12.4% are among black individuals, with 3.3% listed as unknown and 2.9% as some other racial identity.

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