Tarrant County updates emergency plans but does not enact ‘shelter-in-place’ order

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The Tarrant County Commissioners Court held an emergency meeting Sunday and approved stricter emergency management plans but have not ordered residents to “shelter-in-place” yet amid the spread of COVID-19.

The declaration was ordered at 2 p.m. Saturday and limits the size of social gatherings to 10 people or less. It also ordered that restaurants may only provide drive-through and take-out services. 

“The order that I wrote yesterday lets businesses that do not have public coming into them continue as long as they continue to practice social distancing,” County Judge Glen Whitley said. 

The court approved an additional $1,000 fine or a jail sentence up to 180 days for any resident not complying with the county’s emergency management plan. 

They also approved a 14-day renewal of Whitley’s declaration of a local disaster. 

Both Roy Charles Brooks and Devan Allen called for the county to adopt a shelter-in-place order similar to what Dallas County enacted earlier Sunday. 

“We would not be shutting down the essential functions of government or the essential functions of the private sector that people depend on to make it from day to day,” Brooks said. “We would just be asking people to stay the heck at home.”

 The Dallas County order says that residents may only leave their homes for “essential activities, or to provide or perform essential governmental functions, or to operate essential businesses.” 

Whitley said he was not prepared to go that far yet. 

“Shelter in place basically says we’re closing any business regardless of whether the public is coming in or not,” he said. “I’m just not that prepared to go this far at this point in time.”

A number of Tarrant County residents voiced their opinions to the court on potentially invoking a shelter in place order. 

Some said it was essential to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, while others saw it as an overreaction and misuse of government powers. 

“This is going to spread like wildfire if we do not do something to get people to stay in their homes and actually stop public conduct with other people,” one Burleson resident said. 

Another resident brought up the fact that Tarrant County had 44 cases at the time of the meeting, accounting for only “.0002 of the county’s population.”

“That small, small amount of population should not impact the entire population as a whole,” she added. “This is simply unprecedented and a gross overstep of government.”

This elicited a strong response from Commissioner Brooks. 

“Unfortunately, that percentage of the population does affect the entire population, and to think otherwise is to stick your head in the sand,” he said. 

Whitley did not rule out the idea of shelter in place entirely, saying that the court will continue to look at it as an option at each of their future meetings.

The court will meet again on Tuesday at 10 a.m. for their regularly scheduled meeting. A briefing from county public health officials is on the agenda

Tarrant County now has 57 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death, according to the county website