UPDATE 4/23/20 10:00 AM: Due to the vagueness of how grocery delivery services will be affected by the amended court order, Texas Scorecard sent an inquiry to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. They replied:
“We have not received any enforcement orders regarding those services.”
UPDATE 4/23/20 9:17 AM: Texas Scorecard received the following responses from the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in regards to our inquiries on the effects of Tarrant’s commissioners voting unanimously to remove farming and fishing from the essential businesses section of their “Guide to Disaster Restrictions” table:
“The Sheriff’s Office does not anticipate a need for enforcement against farmers and fishermen. Our goal is to educate and encourage citizens during these times regarding COVID-19 restrictions. Everyone has cooperated with our patrol division, so far.”
“Enforcement action is taken on a case-by-case basis. It is impossible to answer this with a blanket answer. Every situation has different elements and the enforcement action will be handled at the discretion of the deputy, in conjunction with the laws of the State. The likelihood of the TCSO even receiving a complaint call regarding farming or fishing is very slim. Again, we do not anticipate non-compliance or needed enforcement regarding this situation. Our goal is to work with our community and not against them.”
On Tuesday, a North Texas county’s commissioners approved changes to their coronavirus response court orders, making a number of their restrictions reliant on whatever actions Gov. Greg Abbott makes. The commissioners also removed a number of businesses from their table of “essential businesses,” creating more confusion for residents about what is now allowed and what isn’t.
“Basically, what we are doing with changing this executive order at this point in time is bringing this in line and compliance with the governor’s orders that were passed—that he actually put out on Friday—that go into effect at 11:59 tonight,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said during Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
The commissioners voted unanimously to amend the executive order as follows:
- County limitations on public gatherings will not exceed the orders of Abbott.
- Healthcare activities will only be limited by Abbott’s orders; limitations on elective healthcare procedures were removed.
- Definitions of critical infrastructure will follow Abbott and guidance from the National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA).
- Urgent care facilities were added to the essential businesses summary.
The order incorporates an attached “Guide to Disaster Restrictions” table but says in the event of a conflict, the text within the order prevails.
The commissioners added firearms and ammunition suppliers, shooting ranges, hotels, and manufacturing to the table’s list of essential critical infrastructure.
They deleted from the list food service providers, food cultivation, farming, fishing, livestock, delivery, and shipping not open to the public.
Commissioners Gary Fickes and Devan Allen asked why food service was removed.
“Where else is it addressed, so we’re not limiting food capacity?” Allen asked.
“The food services listed in the table were referenced from the agricultural section of CISA, and that whole section was deleted; the restaurants and pick-up are still permitted under paragraph seven,” Tarrant’s civil attorney replied. She also said the items they removed from the table were removed from CISA’s most recent guidance on “Essential Critical Infrastructure.”
“This guidance is not a federal mandate, and final decisions remain with state and local officials, who must determine how to balance public health and safety with the need to maintain critical infrastructure in their communities,” CISA Director Christopher Krebs has stated.
Fishing and farming are now not listed as essential anywhere else in the commissioners court order. It is unclear if grocery delivery services are deemed essential or not.
Farmers are listed in the CISA guidance.
Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to all the commissioners asking if those activities are now restricted. Fickes gave the following reply:
“The Food Service issue is a question I ask[ed] the CDA Civil Attorney about yesterday. She explained that Food Service in this case is not allowed when in conjunction with food cultivation, farming, fishing, livestock, delivery and shipping. She claims that the Governor’s order is the same and that this does not apply to restaurants or any other normal food service outlet.”
We sent a follow-up inquiring if farming or fishing were now banned, and how the delivery of groceries to people’s homes—a service many high-risk seniors are relying on during the coronavirus situation—was now affected. A reply was not received by publication time.
Inquiries have also been sent to the Tarrant County sheriff’s office regarding what the changes to the court order mean in regards to enforcement.
Adding to the confusion, last night, Allen sent out an email claiming in-person worship was still banned.
This conflicts with the commissioners’ own court order.
It also conflicts with updated guidance from Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which states, “Local governments may not order houses of worship to close.”
We asked the other commissioners about Allen’s statement. Fickes replied: “I haven’t seen Commissioner Allen’s email[.] Didn’t realize I was on her email list!”
“I find that what is happening here this morning is kind of confusing,” resident Geralyn Cox told commissioners.
As of April 22, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 517 Texans, out of 20,196 verified cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. It’s not yet known how many businesses will be permanently closed and jobs will be lost due to the coronavirus shutdowns.
Voters may contact the commissioners for clarification.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks: 817-370-4500; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 2 Commissioner Devan Allen: 817-248 6099; email@example.com
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes: 817-248-6295; firstname.lastname@example.org
Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson: 817-238-4400; email@example.com
County Judge Glen Whitley: 817-884-1441; firstname.lastname@example.org