Denton City Hall

Denton City Hall

Minutes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hosted a news conference in which he issued an order reopening Texas and rescinding his mask mandate, Denton City Council members on Tuesday took no action on the issue.

“We do have a local order until March 31,” Denton Chief of Staff Sarah Kuechler said. “We have not had a chance to review his [order]. But it is effective next Wednesday, March 10. All businesses may open at 100% capacity if they choose. The statewide mask mandate will go away.”

The order allows businesses to continue requiring customers to wear face coverings and maintain social distancing. But it preempts cities and counties from adopting ordinances forcing residents to wearing masks.

‘Direct contradiction’

“It’s a pretty direct contradiction between CDC guidelines and the governor’s guidelines,” City Council member Deb Armintor said. “I, too, want to follow the CDC advice. One thing scientists are really clear about is when it’s safe to reopen. Even experts say you don’t know until you get there.”

City residents remain under a disaster declaration and the 10th Order of Council until March 31. The order requires businesses to maintain health and safety plans and post signs at entrances and “incorporates the face covering and social distancing requirements of gubernatorial order GA-29. The policy may include the implementation of other mitigating measures designed to control and reduce the transmissions of COVID-19 such as temperature checks or health screenings.”

Effectively, the Denton council’s 10th Order is an extension of Abbott’s GA-29, which requires residents to wear face coverings “in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases, with few exceptions.”

But GA-34, as of March 10, would make the city’s order moot.

“However, [Abbott’s] order will strongly encourage everyone to take those prevention measures,” Kuechler said.

While the governor’s order reopens Texas and removes the mask mandate, Abbott urges residents to continue to do what is in their best interests, including continuing to wear masks and maintaining social distancing.

‘Excellent news’

Matt Richardson, director of Denton County Public Health, gave council members an update Tuesday — as he has done several times since the pandemic began — on how residents here have been affected.

“Denton County has almost 12,000 active cases,” he said. “We are going to be reporting 13 additional deaths. We’re just not done with COVID-19 yet.”

Richardson also said many patients remain in intensive care units in Denton County.

“Only 12% of ICU beds in Denton County are available, but we are trending down,” he said. “We’re half of what we were two months ago, and I think that’s excellent news.”

Responding to a question from Armintor about the presence of COVID-19 variants in Denton County, Richardson said they exist here.

“It’s safe to assume that variants are active all across Denton County,” he said. “We are seeing it coast to coast. Coronavirus variants are here to stay.”

While the fight continues to mitigate COVID-19, Richardson said Denton County, a vaccination hub, remains “well stocked.”

“As vaccine manufacturing increases, we anticipate that the state either later this month or early next month increases the availability in phases,” he said.

Richardson said that according to a state website, 103,000 Denton County residents have received double doses of the vaccine.

“But I think prevention remains key,” he said. “The vaccine rollout is ongoing. From the public-health standpoint, I think the CDC is correct. We still have to be careful.”

On Tuesday, council members gave no indication on how the city may respond to the governor’s order.

PAUL BRYANT can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @paulbryant_DRC.

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