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Judge Wayne McDaniel urges Hardin County schools to enforce mask mandate as COVID-19 cases spike

He would like to see schools in Hardin County mask up for 30-45 days to at least try and slow down the spread.

BEAUMONT, Texas — Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel released a statement Tuesday to school districts in the county, citing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases among young people.

Schools across Texas are defying Gov. Greg Abbott's ban on a mask mandate, most recently in our own backyard with Beaumont Independent School District.

In Hardin County, a mandate has not been issued, and cases are getting out of control.

"The majority of cases over the past week occurred in the 11 to 20-year-old age group. The number of known infections among school-aged children, age 5-18, over the past week is 108," the release said in part.

"If you've been exposed, wear a mask,” said Dr. Jana M. Winberg with the Hardin County Health Authority.

That's the message from health officials in Hardin County.

"I would say it's pretty urgent," McDaniel said. "We knew when school started back up that it wasn't going to be great, but I think things are worse than we expected them to be."

In just two weeks, 392 students and 103 staff have tested positive within five Hardin County schools.

"That’s actually quite a number of students for some campuses, that pushes close to 10% of their students are actually testing positive for COVID,” Winberg said.

Winberg said the uptick comes from the delta variant

"If I expose ten people, last year one or two might get sick, this year, maybe five or six are gonna get sick," Winberg said.

12News reached out to various Hardin County campuses Wednesday and did not receive a response.

"I don’t really know whether or not to anticipate if any of our school districts will issue a mask mandate so to speak,” McDaniel said. “I am hoping that they will at least strongly encourage employees and students to wear a mask."

Winberg said schools are only part of the problem.

"That may stop the spread in the schools, but it's not going to stop the spread in the community," Winberg said.

She said people are missing the big picture.

"It got so political, and people right now are having difficulty seeing past the politics, to seeing the individuals that are sick the individuals who have been sick the individuals that are working, and we forget that there's humans behind all of this," Winberg said.

McDaniel said he hopes parents will consider doing the right thing. He would like to see schools in Hardin County mask up for 30-45 days to at least try and slow down the spread.

Full statement from Hardin County Judge Wayne McDaniel...

Active cases of COVID-19 continue a sharp rise this week in Hardin County, and the age group of those testing positive for the Coronavirus is much younger. The majority of cases over the past week occurred in the 11-20 year old age group. The number of known infections among school-aged children, age 5-18, over the past week is 108. When you look at the numbers here and on my graphic, please know this is not all inclusive. Hardin County Health Services personnel are reviewing 800+ additional lab reports (for Hardin and Orange Counties) as you read this.

According to Dr. Jana Winberg, Health Authority - In the 13 days since August 11, 2021, there have been 392 students and 103 staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 throughout our five school districts. Dr. Winberg sent a letter to all School Superintendents late last night strongly encouraging all students, teachers and staff to wear masks in all indoor spaces in order to mitigate and slow down the spread of the virus throughout the schools and the community. I support her in this strong recommendation, and appreciate her leadership.

I know full well that the wearing of masks is a controversial topic. I also know the word “mandate” just makes many people angry, and I have steered clear of issuing any “mask mandate” throughout this entire pandemic. I’ve asked people to do the right thing, and most have done so much of the time. Today, I am strongly pleading with everyone who reads this to please observe the following language from Governor Abbott’s most recent Executive Order, GA-38: “In areas where the COVID-19 transmission rate is high, individuals are encouraged to follow the safe practices they have already mastered, such as wearing face coverings over the nose and mouth wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.”

Masks do work, in my opinion. I am aware many disagree, and I may certainly be proven wrong someday – If so, I will freely admit it. Masks are not fool-proof, especially when they do not cover the mouth and the nose or are not worn consistently, and they are not going to STOP the spread of the Coronavirus. But, if everyone will commit to wearing masks when indoors and unable to social distance for just 30-40 days, this will SLOW DOWN the infection rate, keeping our schools open, and alleviating some of the stress from our hospitals, physicians, nursing staff, EMTs, and others on the front lines fighting this disease. Instead of 1 sick person infecting several others, he/she may only infect a few, or none, by wearing a mask responsibly.

One more divisive topic is vaccines – According to the data from this latest surge of the virus, the vaccines are working as designed. Most of those getting infected are staying out of the hospital, but not all, and even more than that, vaccinated people who are getting sick are surviving the infection. I was one who hesitated to get the vaccine, but after seeing the results, I got mine last week. I’m not telling you to do so, I’m asking you to do your own research, like I did, and decide for yourself. I respect your decision either way. Vaccines are readily available at virtually all of the pharmacies and public health departments throughout SETX. Call (409) 550-2536 for more information on vaccines.

I want to share with you part of a conversation with our Health Director, Sharon Whitley, from last Friday. Ms. Whitley has been at home fighting COVID-19 for over 2 weeks now, and yes, she was fully vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. During a call with other HCHS staff, she said to us, “This COVID ain’t no joke – It’s bad, it’s serious, and I don’t wish it on anyone. I let my guard down for a little while, and I sure wish now that I hadn’t. Thank God I got the vaccine or who knows where I would be right now.” I have permission from Ms. Whitley to share this, and it is not meant to scare anyone, but is intended to provide perspective from a Health Director who is experiencing a Moderate to Severe case of COVID. We just want everyone to think about how best to keep yourself, your family and others as safe and healthy as possible at all times to avoid the possibility of getting critically ill, or spreading the virus to others and making them critically ill.

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