UPDATED April 5.
Deferring to the governor’s new statewide directive issued to slow the spread of the coronavirus, one North Texas county ended its less-detailed local order, while another continued countywide restrictions.
On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced an executive order requiring all Texans to “minimize in-person contact” through April 30, except to provide or obtain “essential services.”
The statewide order, which took effect April 2, includes guidance on what activities are essential and supersedes conflicting orders issued by local officials.
Abbott’s action prompted Collin County Judge Chris Hill to rescind his countywide “stay home, work safe” order issued March 24.
While Hill’s order also instructed residents to stay home except for essential activities, it declared all businesses essential and encouraged them to stay open if they could do so safely. Employers and customers were given shared responsibility for following social distancing and other CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We the commissioners court cannot dictate to you every scenario that you need to consider in your life,” Hill said at a court meeting on Monday. “You have got to be on board with us, making commonsense decisions for yourself and your community.”
Hill said his goal was the same as other county judges: to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect citizens’ health.
“Some think if we’ll just make an exhaustive list of everything people can’t do, people will stay home and not do those things,” he said. “There are people out and about in Dallas County too, and they’re not able to enforce their regulations.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told the press Tuesday his restrictive shelter-in-place order—which includes detailed lists of prohibited and “essential” activities and businesses—is consistent with Abbott’s statewide directive. During a special meeting Friday, Dallas commissioners voted 4-1 to extend the county’s local disaster declaration through May 20. That declaration authorizes the county judge to issue executive orders related to the public health emergency.
Jenkins then issued an amended stay-at-home order effective through April 30, the same date Abbott’s statewide order ends.
Commissioner John Wiley Price was the lone “no” vote on the disaster declaration. Commissioner J.J. Koch said Friday he will seek additional limits on Jenkins’ authority to extend his order. Koch said he also opposes extending the stay-at-home order beyond April 30 but would not have been able to put the issue back on the court’s agenda unless he voted with the majority.
Dallas County commissioners meet again on Tuesday.
The governor wrote his order specifically to “supersede any conflicting order issued by local officials in response to the COVD-19 disaster, but only to the extent that such a local order restricts essential services allowed by this executive order or allows gatherings prohibited by this executive order.”
Abbott also suspended “relevant statutes, to the extent necessary to ensure that local officials do not impose restrictions inconsistent with this executive order.”
City officials in Allen, which is within Collin County, said they will be enforcing the new statewide order and are visiting local businesses to ensure compliance with safety guidelines.
“It is our individual personal responsibility to take these actions for ourselves, our family, and the community,” Allen’s newly appointed interim Mayor Debbie Stout said Wednesday in a video message to city residents.
“Seeing Americans be personally responsible is a comfort,” local activist Brian Newman, head of conservative grassroots group Collin Strong, told Texas Scorecard. “Especially in an environment where we are dealing with a lot of uncertainty.”
Hill also stresses personal responsibility.
“If you don’t need something critical, stay home and don’t go out,” Hill said. “We’re all experiencing a level of frustration because we’re seeing folks who are abusing that in this county and every other county.”
“If they really need an elected official to tell them how to act,” Hill added, “we’re in trouble.”
Abbott’s order refers Texans to the Department of Homeland Security’s Guidance on the Critical Essential Infrastructure Workforce to determine what activities and businesses are “essential.”
Church services, which some local orders including Dallas County’s had restricted, are also specifically allowed within the same safety guidelines as other essential services. Schools cannot resume in-person classes before May 4.