Sutton County ended the first week in November with COVID-19 case counts exceeding the uptick in early July.

Within a 14 day period, there were 30 new confirmed cases of the virus, according to the state. The new cases involved 17 employees of the Sutton County Hospital District including Lillian M. Hudspeth Hospital as well as a half dozen county employees who also tested positive for the virus.

“We have over 30 active cases,” County Judge Steve Smith said. “We have lost the mask exemption. Everyone is required to wear a mask and social distance. I will monitor the this for the next two weeks and if we continue to have new cases at this rate, then we may have to make other changes. I urge everyone to wear a mask. If not to protect yourselves, then to protect others. Be kind to others. It’s tough to be kind. I urge you to be kind.”

By Monday, Sutton County was removed from the mask exemption listed on the state’s website.

Currently, 20 percent of the county’s employees have been affected by the virus. They have either had it or have it now, Smith noted. That directly affects the rest of the community, he added.

A number of recent public gatherings including Halloween celebrations, funerals and weddings are thought to be the source of the recent outbreak, according to Smith.

The cumulative total of cases reported for Sutton County is 180, with 30 currently active, more than 100 recovered and three deaths, according to the most reliable sources.

Sources include LMH Hospital, the San Angelo Health Department, Schleicher County Medical Center and the Texas State Department of Health Services (DSHS).

Due to the surge, Sutton County was removed from the mask exemption by the state, according to Smith. In response to that action, Smith announced during a Commissioner’s meeting this past Monday morning that he is requiring everyone to wear a face mask or face covering over the nose and mouth when inside any business, commercial entity, other building or space open to the public including restaurants, when in outdoor public space, whenever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.

Currently, local restaurants are allowed 50 percent capacity and gatherings of 50 people are allowed. That will continue unless the number of positive cases continues to increase in the upcoming weeks, Smith said. In addition to wearing a face mask, people are expected to limit all gatherings, he added.

Smith said Dr. Rachel Sonne, Regional Medical Director (RMD) for Public Health Region 9/10, reached out to Smith by phone Saturday evening to let him know about the situation.

Referring to the largest cluster being at the hospital, Sonne told Smith the “blow up” in the number of positive cases of coronavirus in Sutton County is causing concern at the state level.

Dramatic increases in Texas case counts, including rural areas such as Sutton County, have made it challenging for state health officials to handle collecting and reporting data related to COVID-19.