Kerr County’s exemption from the statewide mandatory mask order has been removed, meaning everyone inside the county is once again responsible for covering their faces in public to abide by Governor Greg Abbott’s GA-29 order.
Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly contacted the Texas Department of Emergency Management on Friday to voluntarily ask the state agency to remove Kerr County from its list of exempted Texas counties.
He said he made his decision based on his analysis of Dub Thomas’ weekly COVID-19 report and on a consultation he had with Cory Edmondson, CEO/President of Peterson Health.
Kelly and Edmondson discussed the discrepancies between the Texas Department of State Health Services’ official active case count (which is used by TDEM and Kerr County) and the actual antigen positive tests results used by Peterson Regional Medical Center. Kelly said DSHS does not recognize positive antigen test results as confirmed active cases for its case count, but instead lists them as probable.
“As of yesterday, Kerr County’s official DSHS active case count was 12 active cases with 41 probable cases and 50 cases pending investigation. At the same time, our local hospital has reported 51 positive antigen test results since Sept. 5, with 5 new cases yesterday.”
Edmondson explained that while the PCR test is 99 percent accurate, the antigen tests are 88-91 percent accurate, clinically speaking.
Kelly ultimately concluded that the hospital’s actual antigen test results more accurately reflect our situation “on the ground,” while the DSHS numbers are not current due to the delay in contact-tracing positive antigen test results. Edmondson’s input about the accuracy of the antigen test was the deciding factor, the judge said.
“With DSHS reporting 40 probable and 33 completed investigations that we don’t have the results of yet … I concluded that, statistically, Kerr County is on a trajectory to surpass the minimum 20 active case requirement to get and keep the exemption from the statewide mask order,” Kelly said. “Do the math -- 90% accuracy of 40 probable cases. I didn’t want to wait for the inevitable.”
The county has seen an uptick in cases, particularly in PRMC’s antigen testing since the exemption was granted Sept. 17. Additionally, on Sept. 30, the county recorded its 11th COVID-19 fatality of a Kerr County resident.
“As you know, there has been and continues to be substantial discrepancies between the DSHS official active case counts and our local hospital positive antigen testing case counts. But today with PRMC’s assistance, I think we’ve made major progress in learning how to reconcile those differences,” Kelly explained.
“The prudent decision was to be proactive and remove Kerr County from the TDEM exemption list until we can contain this latest flare-up,” he added. At the end of the day Friday, the DSHS Region Update reported Kerr County to have 16 active cases.
“We are the only county in Texas to have voluntarily removed our exemption, and TDEM complimented our wisdom in so doing,” Kelly said. “In the long run, Kerr County will not have to wait as long as other counties to ask for another exemption, so, in a way, we will be rewarded later for being more responsible now.”
Other counties have had their exemptions involuntarily removed by TDEM. Llano County lost its exemption earlier in the week.
“At this time, we’re being smart about what’s going to benefit our community, our residents and our visitors, in the long run,” Kelly said. “By going back to what we were doing and keeping up with the other preventative measures such as social distancing and washing hands, we can keep this virus at bay. I know Kerr County citizens are going to do what’s right for their neighbors. Working together – respecting each other – that’s how we’re going to get through this.”