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COVID-19

Williamson County Officials React To Lifted Mask Mandate

Mental health specialists with the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team wear masks while responding to a call in December.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Mental health specialists with the Williamson County Mobile Outreach Team wear masks while responding to a call in December.

Health officials in Williamson County are recommending people continue following COVID-19 safety protocols — even after the statewide mask mandate goes away next week.

Gov. Greg Abbott has announced that, starting next Wednesday, masks will no longer be required by the state and businesses can open at 100% capacity.

Derrick Neal, director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District, said WCCHD still encourages people to wear their masks.

"We take no solace, nor do we have any confidence in the orders that were issued by the governor, because we know that there's sufficient enough virus in our community that puts the greater population of our residents at risk for contracting COVID-19," he said.

Although vaccines are rolling out, Neal said not enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Williamson County had fully vaccinated about 30,000 people as of Wednesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Some of those numbers may reflect people coming from outside the county to get shots, Neal warned, since Texans don't have to live in the county where they get their vaccine.

Neal said he's also concerned about "vaccine hesitancy," or the skepticism some residents have about the vaccine.

"We still have a significant amount of people in Williamson County that are refusing to even take the vaccination," he said. "We just assume that every individual wants to get a shot and we're just going to simply reach herd immunity, but we're experiencing resistance even from some of our [phase 1A and 1B] participants, as well as our first responders."

The health district is continuing to emphasize the importance of masks and mitigation protocols to schools, businesses and cities in Williamson County, Neal said.

WCCHD also recommends county officials follow and encourage similar practices. But, Neal said, it's no secret that there have been "respectful disagreements" between public health and county partners throughout the pandemic.

“But the conversation and the partnership still continues," Neal said. "And we don't walk away from the table because there's no agreement. We continue to work with each other in hopes of reaching herd immunity and a happy medium.”

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said he appreciates the governor’s decision because it allows individuals and businesses to make their own choices.

“I've always been a huge proponent of personal choice and the ability of individuals to make decisions,” Gravell said. “And I appreciate the governor lifting the mask mandate and allowing individuals to make choices. Now for our citizens, they can choose to wear a mask or not. It's their choice.”

Gravell said he will be wearing a mask until he is vaccinated.

“I have made a commitment that I am not going to be vaccinated until everyone age 65 or older has been vaccinated in Williamson County,” he said. “And when I am vaccinated and I am safe to be out and not contract COVID or to share COVID, then I'll stop wearing a mask.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people continue wearing masks and social distancing after they have been vaccinated, since it's not yet known whether the vaccine prevents people from spreading the virus, even if they don't get sick themselves.

Got a tip? Email Allyson Ortegon at aortegon@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @allysonortegon.

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