Judge drops mask order, lets bars open

Virus cases drop to 4 in county

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Austin County Judge Tim Lapham on Monday filed the paperwork necessary to lift the mask order in the county on Monday and to allow bars to reopen on Wednesday.

Lapham made the announcement Friday on Facebook and again Monday morning during commissioners court at the county courthouse, where commissioners met in a hybrid in-person and online meeting.

“Bars can open on the 14th, I believe, that’s Wednesday. I have some paperwork that I’ve started on Friday and am going to follow-up on today that they allow county judges to do that goes with your hospital capacity, so that should be repealed on Wednesday,” Lapham said in court. “There’s an exemption from the mask order that requires 20 or less new cases over the last 14 days and we should be well below that now. We were right at that on Thursday and Friday, so I’m going to work on that today as well, so the mask order will probably come off.”

No sooner had the words left Lapham’s mouth when Commissioner Randy Reichardt pulled off his mask. The other commissioners kept theirs on.

“Bars should be able to open on Wednesday following the governor’s rules, so along with that the mask mandate should come off,” he reiterated.

Lapham emphasized that businesses can still require patrons to wear masks in their stores.

“Now like I’ve explained, if you go to a business and I’m going to ask businesses to please put their sign up if they want you to wear as mask in their store, because that’s the business’s right to enforce that. So, if they still have that sign up you still have to wear the mask inside the store because that’s the private property owner’s right to do that, but the mandate should come off this afternoon,” he said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported on Monday that Austin County has four active cases, nine deaths, and a total of 503 COVID-19 cases.

“Opting out of the mask mandate means the government is allowing the businesses to make the decision for themselves,” Lapham said in his Monday report. “I ask that any business that wishes to continue to require face coverings to post that requirement on each entry door. Please be patient with each other as we evolve with the ever-changing regulations. And if you want to celebrate your freedom by burning your masks in the street ... please watch out for the cars!”

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