Gregg County Commissioners Court

Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt listens during a January commissioners court meeting. “Those who want to continue wearing masks can continue to do so, and those who don’t want to wear them do not have to,” Stoudt said of the governor ending the statewide mask mandate.

Beginning March 10, Longview and Gregg County residents can choose whether to continue wearing face masks after a state mandate is lifted.

Longview Mayor Andy Mack and Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt each said Tuesday they will follow Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders, and once the mandate is lifted at the state level, that also will apply locally.

“It will be up to each individual. Those who want to continue wearing masks can continue to do so, and those who don’t want to wear them do not have to,” Stoudt said. “However, people still need to be cautious. This virus has not gone away. We are certainly getting to the other side of it with the vaccine, and people who have been wearing face masks and following the rules have made a huge difference. People still need to be cautious, be smart and continue to do the right thing.”

Abbott announced Tuesday that, effective March 10, he will lift a statewide mask mandate and allow businesses and facilities to operate at 100% capacity. The announcement came as medical advancements, including vaccines and therapeutic drugs, helped reduce the statewide risk of COVID-19.

Abbott also indicated residents are still encouraged to take personal responsibility for their health and the health of their community and follow the advice of medical professionals.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Abbott said during his announcement.If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a county judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, county judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a county level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity.

Mack said the city will follow the governor’s rules, but he noted it is good news that businesses will be able to operate at 100% capacity again.

“It’s good news for our business community and good news for our citizens as well,” he said. “And we’re not saying that you don’t have to wear a face mask any more. This just gives people the choice.”

Mack noted throughout the mask mandate, many Texans have chosen to forego face coverings. It continues to be a personal decision, he said.

On Friday, Gregg County Health Authority Dr. Lewis Browne said it is imperative that community members continue to wear masks.

“We don’t have enough vaccinations of herd immunity to warrant (lifting the mask mandate) yet,” Browne said earlier. “I think we ought to continue to wear the masks, and I think certainly a month or two from now, we’re very likely to be able to do something within about two months for sure.”

In Gregg County, new reported coronavirus cases dropped significantly in February, with the exception of a spike around Feb. 8 and 9, according to the Northeast Texas Public Health District.

“The last thing we need is another spike of this,” Browne said Friday.

While Stoudt urges residents to continue to take caution, he said, like Mack, that he is grateful businesses will be able to operate at 100% capacity again. Many businesses — especially locally owned — have suffered, including having to cut employees and even closing, Stoudt noted.

As Christus Good Shepherd Health System became designated in January as a vaccine hub for the state, Stoudt noted that the hub has been “tremendously successful” in vaccinating East Texans.

“The demand is growing, and we’re going to continue to meet that demand,” he said. “COVID-19 has taken away our lives for a year now, and we are glad to be getting to the other side of it now so that we can start getting back to our lives.”

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