Officials in one North Texas county are saying “no” to face mask mandates for now, but caution that “community-wide interventions” are possible if local conditions worsen due to the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

After reviewing the latest local case data, the Denton County Commissioners Court took no action at today’s meeting that would require citizens to wear masks in public, though they recommended the practice along with other commonsense precautions.

County Judge Andy Eads said local hospitals are not “overrun” with patients, contrary to alarmist rumors, and encouraged “armchair epidemiologists” to avoid sharing inaccurate information.

Dr. Matt Richardson, Denton County Public Health Director, told commissioners that hospital capacity remains very flexible at this point, and the county has a high margin to accept more COVID-19 cases.

The data showed just half of the county’s 1,000 hospital beds are occupied, 28 by confirmed coronavirus patients.

“We are concerned, yet we are monitoring that,” he said. “Right now our hospital infrastructure is intact and it is not taxed. If that changes, we might recommend community-wide interventions to stem the tide of further impact to hospitals.”

Richardson also dispelled the rumor that localities receive more federal relief money if they diagnose more COVID-19 cases or deaths.

“We do not get additional funds based on cases or fatalities,” he said. “Funding is based on total county population only.”

He said the county investigates all reported deaths and reviews medical records to confirm the cause. “We do not over-estimate fatalities due to COVID-19,” he said.

Denton County has reported 36 deaths out of 2,219 confirmed coronavirus cases. About half the patients have recovered, though Richardson said the number of recoveries is likely under-reported as the county only counts those it confirms by speaking to the patients.

Some residents still urged commissioners to impose a mask mandate like Dallas County did last week, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave local officials the go-ahead to implement mask orders.

Eads noted Dallas has three times the population of Denton County but eight times the number of cases and eight-and-a-half times the number of deaths.

“We’ve lost more people to suicide than to COVID,” he said.

“To prevent COVID is much more than masks. It is lifestyle changes, courtesy to others,” Eads added. “There are many steps we can take. … You can vote with your feet, where you spend your dollars.”

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.