Breckenridge Texan

‘Take this as serious as it is’: County, city officials declare state of disaster due to coronavirus

‘Take this as serious as it is’: County, city officials declare state of disaster due to coronavirus
March 16
22:41 2020

Based on the idea that there are probably undiagnosed cases of COVID-19, aka coronavirus disease, in the local community, officials for Stephens County and the City of Breckenridge declared a local state of disaster for the community, beginning Monday, March 16.

The declaration by Stephens County Judge Michael Roach specifies that the county’s state of disaster will be in effect for seven days, until the Commissioners Court meets again; the next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 23.

Roach announced the declaration at a press conference in the district courtroom at 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, along with Breckenridge City Manager Andy McCuistion, Mayor Bob Sims, Breckenridge Independent School District Interim Superintendent Earl Jarrett and Bill Flournoy with the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office, who helps Roach with the emergency management for the county.

Information that Roach gathered at a noon meeting of local medical staff led to the disaster declaration. Roach said he met with several local doctors, including Dr. William Prater, the county’s Public Health Authority. He asked them if, knowing how difficult it currently is to get anyone tested for COVID-19, officials should be acting as if there are no cases of the disease or as if the disease is present in the community.

“Every doctor and health care professional in that room, without exception, said we should operate as if there is community spread (of the disease),” Roach said after the press conference. “They are certain that we have it locally and that we have to take those precautions. Because if we wait…until we have that confirmed case, it’s going to be too late; it’s going to be widespread all over this community.”

Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Stephens County, Roach said there have been some people who have been tested.

As test kits become more readily available, Roach said, it is highly likely that Texas will see the number of confirmed cases greatly increase.

“Some (people) in these conference calls I’ve been on have said, if you have it, you infect two to three people before you even realize you have it. That spreads like crazy,” he said. “And, then, if you go back and look at the death rate from it, it’s not like the flu. People keep saying, ‘It’s just like the flu.’ Maybe for a young person with a good immune system. If you have a compromised immune system or you’re elderly, it’s a lot more deadly than the flu.

“That being the case, that is a different story locally. I’m not willing, the City’s not willing, to sit by when we could do something early, and that’s the whole genesis of all this,” Roach continued. “Those doctors today, that meeting today at lunch, absolutely changed my mind that we are not acting fast enough.”

Although some people may think that the officials are overreacting to the situation, Roach said he isn’t concerned about that. “I’ll take it on the chin for going above and beyond. I don’t want to be responsible for somebody in this community losing their life or they could’ve prevented it, but that information wasn’t shared in a timely way,” he said. “I think if Italy is an example…look at South Korea…the differences in those countries. Proactivity was the lifesaver for a lot of people.”

The official disaster declaration

During the press conference, which was streamed live on Facebook by the Breckenridge Texan, Roach said, “We’re here today because the County (and) the City … are declaring a local disaster due to a public health emergency. As many of you are aware, the governor of the state of Texas has already issued a disaster declaration for the state; our president has issued one for the country. Locally, we’ve been trying to get our arms around the impact that this virus may have on this community.”

Based on several factors, ranging from the current nationwide shortage of test kits to the advice from local doctors and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials decided it was time to declare the state of emergency for the community.

Read the official county declaration here: StephensCountyEmergencyDeclaration

“What we want the citizens to know today is that we do feel like we have (COVID-19) spreading throughout our community,” Roach said. “Now, I want to (emphasize) that we are not asking folks to panic. As a matter of fact, our mantra has been ‘Facts over fear.’ So, let’s just look at the facts. The facts are, most healthy people are going to recover. But, the reason why we’re having this meeting today and the declaration is because we’ve all acknowledged … that the most vulnerable in our community are really the ones we’re concerned about, those who are elderly, those who maybe have a compromised immune system because of ongoing health problems. Those are the ones we have to take into consideration.”

Although younger and healthier people may not face much of a risk from the novel (new) coronavirus, that’s certainly not the case for the elderly and those who struggle with their health in the community.

Because there is no known outbreak of COVID-19 at this time in Breckenridge, the disaster declaration comes with recommendations for the community. If the situation changes and there are widespread problems from the disease, the recommendations will be changed to requirements.

“We’re trying to find some common sense ways to handle this problem, so we’re asking the public to take this as serious as it is,” Roach said.

He then listed the recommendations from the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services, that the County and City are asking local citizens to follow at least through April 20. The main recommendation is that organizers cancel events in the county that would include over 50 people.  “That includes church gatherings or other like things,” he said.

Read the complete list of recommendations: PublicHealthRecommendations

Additionally, Roach listed some of the actions that the County Commissioners approved this morning in response to the coronavirus situation, including reducing the hours of operation at the courthouse and limiting entrance to the courthouse through the east doors. Click here to read the complete story about the County’s new COVID-19 response plan.

The county judge also asked citizens to look beyond themselves and think of others as they respond to the coronavirus situation.

“For me, personally, my walk with Christ is something I hold dear … and Scripture tells us to treat others as we want to be treated and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And I think through all of this, for those who may question the motivation of why we’re doing this, we have to consider our neighbor. Consider for a moment that you are that person that is at the highest risk. How would you want your community to treat you? I think that we would want people to do their best to make sure that we protect, as much as possible, those that are most vulnerable. And, that’s what this is all about. This is about saving lives; this is about reaching out to people and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And, that’s so important.”

Breckenridge City Manager Andy McCuistion explains the City’s actions to try and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

After Roach talked, he passed the microphone over to City Manager Andy McCuistion. “What we’re trying to do at the City is to make sure that we provide continuity of operations but that we also protect our employees,” McCuistion said.

He said that the City is restricting access to City Hall and other City facilities. Visitors to City Hall will not be allowed beyond the front counter, and the front entrance will be the only door open. A commercial-grade disinfectant will be used to clean the lobby twice a day. Precautions also are being taken at other departments, such as the fire department, police department, the senior citizens center and municipal court. Click the following link for the City’s official 22-day disaster declaration: Coronavirus Declaration

“I just hope we can get compliance, voluntary compliance,” Mayor Bob Sims said. “We don’t want to reach that point where we have to say ‘You will do this’ or ‘You will do that.’ I think, as Breckenridge people, we can all come together and do this. We can get through it. Yes, it may last a while, but if we don’t try to do it now, there’s no telling what the consequences will be later for all of us. This was not put together in haste; there’s been a lot of thought going into this, going forward with it.

“We hope when it’s all said and done, people say ‘Well, that was a waste of time, didn’t do nothing.’ That would be great,” the mayor continued. “But, the worst thing would be is if someone comes up positive or, even worse than that, a death … then, it would bother all of us, I know, to say we should’ve done this earlier. So, again, we’re just asking for your voluntary compliance.”

Then, BISD Interim Superintendent Earl Jarrett explained the recent actions the school district has taken in combating the disease. After receiving the information that experts are advising communities to assume that COVID-19 is already present, the district decided to close schools for students through the end of the week. On Friday, district officials will determine if the break will continue to be extended.

However, he said, state funding for the school is dependent on the district’s efforts to continue to provide delivery of instruction, even through a closure and even if the closure lasts longer than this week. Staff will continue to work this week, planning how to accomplish that. For older students, instruction will be through electronic delivery via Chrome books. And, for younger students, it will likely be through printed packets of material.

“That’s pretty complicated,” Jarrett said. “We’re still going to have to provide services to special education students, and some of them have critical needs, some of them have just educational needs. So, we’re going to be working with the faculty and staff the rest of the week to prepare for that.”

Another concern for the school district is providing meals for the students who receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch. Families may pick up the meals at the schools. For more details, click the document below:


More information about BISD’s response to COVID-19 will be listed on the district’s website.

Deputy Bill Flournoy, who helps Roach with the county’s emergency management duties, offered some basic advice to the community: “Take care of your neighbors. Love your neighbors. Don’t buy all the hand sanitizer off the shelves, just because it’s there. Take what you need, but leave some for others. There’s a lot of elderly out there that need our help, and this community has been great about taking care of each other for a long, long time.”


For all of the Breckenridge Texan’s Coronavirus News, click here.

Story by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: Local officials held a press conference Monday afternoon to discuss disaster declarations for Stephens County and the City of Breckenridge due to the coronavirus. Pictured, from left, are Bill Flournoy with the Sheriff’s Office, Mayor Bob Sims, County Judge Michael Roach, City Manager Andy McCuistion and Interim BISD Superintendent Earl Jarrett. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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