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With COVID-19 cases climbing in Henderson County, Athens residents and business owners are headed into uncharted waters as two major holidays approach.

On Thursday NET Health was showing 1,529 confirmed cases in the county with 30 deaths. Athens accounted for 859 cases and 12 deaths.

With those figures to consider, it raises the question how businesses will approach the busiest retail season of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"Merchants are adamant about not curtailing or changing their open door policy," Athens Mayor Monte Montgomery said.

In Athens, cooperation with mask and distancing guidelines has been mixed.

"I had to go shopping this past weekend and went into three of our businesses," Montgomery said. "One of our biggest ones was about 50-50 on masks. Another store had no masks worn whatsoever. At a clothing store all of the employees and all of the customers who came in were wearing masks.""

That contrasts to what he's seen in some of the bigger cities.

"I recently came back from San Antonio and everyone there insisted on masks," Montgomery said. "It's amazing how many of the store owners even wore rubber gloves when they were handling merchandise."

Since the COVID-19 restrictions came down from Governor Gregg Abbott, Athens sales tax numbers have remained strong in spite of the virus. The November report shows the city 7.14% ahead of last November and almost 10% ahead for the year to date.

County Judge Wade McKinney has also seen that the number of COVID cases has been trending upward. He has been tracking the COVID-19 cases, fatalities, testing and hospital space from the beginning of the pandemic's arrival in the county.

"It's not as drastic an incline as we had in July, but it could get that way." McKinney said of the recent increase.

He surmised that students returning to school has probably contributed to the increase, with students having contact with others in class and bringing it home.

"We don't know what it's going to do," he said. "We keep watching the numbers and waiting for trends."

McKinney said the Henderson County website links to all kinds of information about COVID-19 cases in the state and country.

Nationwide, the virus has had a significant effect on Americans ability to pay bills. A report from doxoInsights shows that 42% of Americans have missed at least one payment. The figures show 27% have missed auto loans and 26% have missed utility bills.

Montgomery said city staff keeps the city council informed if there is a spike in people unable to pay Athens utilities. As yet, he hasn't heard of any great increase.

NET Health's track of community spread on Thursday showed Henderson and Anderson County in the moderate range. Henderson had a seven day rolling case rate of 29.97. Anderson had the fewest of the seven counties covered by NET Health with 23.75.

A reading of above 30 is considered substantial community spread.

Smith, Gregg, Van Zandt, Wood and Rains all scored in that range.

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