County officials are requesting residents consider wearing masks again as COVID-19 infection levels continue to rise.

By governor’s order, however, the public cannot be required to comply.

“We had three active cases (of COVID-19 in Wharton County) one month ago. Now we have 130,” Wharton County Deputy Emergency Manager Debbie Cenko told the Leader-News. “I’m an advocate of wearing a mask whether you are vaccinated or not. The Delta variant is so much more contagious.”

Wharton County groups with the Greater Houston region for virus monitoring. The hospitals in the group serve 6.6 million people. “Today (Friday), there are 81 ICU beds available. Yesterday, it was 43,” Cenko said.

Vaccination numbers in Wharton County offer some hope. “Right now we’re at 70 percent (for people ages 65 and up),” Cenko said. Among residents ages 12 and up, at least 50 percent have had one shot.

A vaccinated person can still get COVID-19, although studies show, like the flu shot, it may lessen the severity of the case.

“You are still vulnerable,” Cenko said, but added vaccinated people are less likely to suffer severe cases. “That brings some comfort,” she added.

The Department of State Health Services reports the hospitalization rate for COVID-19 cases at 14.45 percent in the Greater Houston area.

Until the current order (GA-38), the area would have been facing required cuts in occupancy rates at stores, restaurants and other buildings open to the public as well as mask requirements.

Now, “We’re pretty much hamstrung because of the governor’s executive order last week,” Cenko said.

Although the order eliminates requirements – unless a new order is issued, “Texans are strongly encouraged, as a matter of personal responsibility to consistently follow good hygiene, social distancing and other mitigation practices,” according to GA-38.

The time for concern and caution is now, Cenko said. “I think the COVID numbers are making a statement already,” she said.

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