Breckenridge Texan

Some local, state COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted as state moves toward reopening

Some local, state COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted as state moves toward reopening
April 28
00:34 2020

Many local and state restrictions that have been in place for several weeks to try and slow the spread of COVID-19 will be lifted this week by order of the governor, county judge and mayor.

Gov. Greg Abbott addressed Texas Monday afternoon, announcing that the state-wide shelter-in-place order that he issued on March 31 will expire on Thursday, April 30. The original executive order was issued in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed about 200,000 people worldwide.

Following the governor’s announcement, Stephens County Judge Michael Roach and Breckenridge Mayor Bob Sims, along with county attorney Gary Trammell, likewise announced that the local shelter-in-place order would be lifted immediately.

However, the state order will continue to be in effect through midnight Thursday night. Cities and counties may issue more strict orders but may not override state laws with more lenient rules.

On Friday, May 1, the governor will allow several types of businesses to open with limited capacity as part of a gradual reopening of the state’s economy.

In the first phase, which will begin on Friday, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, libraries and museums will be permitted to reopen, according to a news release and pool reports by Paul Weber with The Associated Press. Across the state, the services must limit their capacity to 25 percent of their listed occupancy. Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas, and interactive displays and settings must remain closed, as will interactive museum exhibits.

However, in counties with five or fewer cases of COVID-19, the businesses may be allowed to increase occupancy limits to up to 50 percent. In order for that to happen, the counties must meet specific criteria and apply for the increase. Roach said Stephens County will apply for the exemption immediately.

“Because of the proactive actions of Judge Roach and Mayor Sims, we are (qualified for) that 50 percent,” Trammell said. “If you look around, at the other counties that did not join in with the rules and regulations, like we put in … those folks all have a lot more than one or two (cases); they’re at 5 or 6, and they’re going to be in that 25 percent Phase 1. Because of what these gentlemen did, they really have helped the businesses, the restaurants and places, so that they can open up at that 50 percent (capacity), once we send that checklist off to Austin. … I want to applaud them for their actions.”

Phase 1 is expected to be in effect until May 18, but Abbott said counties could revert back to more limited capacity if there is a new outbreak of coronavirus cases. He said Texas could lift more restrictions as soon as May 18, barring “flare-ups” of COVID-19 cases, which he said will be measured by data including hospitalizations and deaths.

Additionally, Abbott said barbershops, hair salons, bars and gyms must still remain closed for now, with the hope those businesses will be able to resume business on or no later than mid-May.

The Governor’s announcement was accompanied by Texans Helping Texans: The Governor’s Report to Open Texas, a detailed report designed to help Texans understand phase one by outlining the new protocols, guidance, and recommendations. The report also includes a series of Open Texas Checklists that outline DSHS’ minimum standard health protocols for all Texans. Click here to download the report.

Local Perspective

Shortly after the governor’s announcement, Roach, Trammell and Sims met in the Stephens County Courthouse and broadcast an update via the county’s Facebook page on Monday evening.

“I do want to say thank you to all of you for your diligence, for your hard work, because it really looks like it’s paid off for us,” Roach said. “Our hearts are with you guys. You’ve been very patient through this and understanding. I feel and sense your frustration. … I really mean this, we’re in this together.”

Early in the fight against the pandemic, Roach and Sims combined forces to help ensure that the county and city were not overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases. The local orders for social distancing, limited occupancy in stores and sheltering in place were issued before similar state orders were put in place. Since the governor eventually issued the executive order, local officials have decided that the city and county orders are not necessary. On Friday, April 24, and Monday, April 27, Roach announced various changes to the local orders, ensuring that Breckenridge and Stephens County are aligned with the State of Texas.

Additionally, on April 18, the City of Breckenridge reopened parts of the City Park, including the walking trail, disc golf course and skateboard park. And, on Monday, April 20, City Hall was reopened. The County Courthouse will reopen on Monday, May 4.

At this time, the beach/park area at Hubbard Creek Lake is not open for visitors. It was closed by the West Central Texas Municipal Water District, which owns and operates the area. Last week, Roach asked the water district to reopen the area, but the district is still reviewing the request.

Church Services

One topic that was discussed in a conference call last Wednesday — with local officials, emergency management team members and several local pastors — dealt with the local churches. While none of the state or local orders prevented churches from holding services, they were encouraged, possibly required, to enforce social distancing and adhere to the order limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Locally, most churches chose to cancel in-person and/or indoor services temporarily, opting to serve their parishioners via online sermons or drive-up church with everyone staying inside their own vehicles.

During the phone call, Roach asked the pastors to wait until no earlier than May 3 to return to services and that those services be held while adhering to guidelines from the federal government. For example, churches should have parishioners practice social distancing and stay 6 feet away from each other, offer a special service for elderly members or continue to offer online services so that elderly members can continue to stay at home while enjoying the services, practice environmental cleanliness and provide personal protective supplies for employees and church leaders, etc.

Pastor Melinda Lane said that Covenant Tabernacle is planning to wait until Mothers Day, May 10, to return to regular services. Currently, the church is offering drive-up services on Sundays.

Dr. Kelli Windsor suggested that churches remain flexible and willing to cancel services again if there appears to be a serious threat of COVID-19 within the church. With regional cities that local people often visit, such as Abilene and Fort Worth, having dozens or hundreds of cases of the coronavirus disease, Breckenridge and Stephens County remain at risk, she said.

“It’s important for us to keep in mind that we may be dealing with this for a long time,” Windsor said. “I don’t think just because we have coronavirus present in some of the communities or even our own community means that we can’t at all meet for worship, but we’re going to have to be very careful about it. … We don’t really know how this is going to go for the next, really, several months.”

She encouraged any churches that reopen for regular services have masks available for parishioners and that all surfaces in the churches be wiped down with disinfectant regularly.

 COVID-19 Testing

On Thursday, April 30, Stephens County will have free, drive-through COVID-19 testing coordinated by the Texas National Guard. A mobile COVID-19 testing site will be set up in Breckenridge under the awning at Lighthouse Church at 1509 E. Walker. Roach said drivers will enter the awning from the Jackson Street entrance.

The testing will be available to anyone who wants it, but there will be a maximum of 100 appointments available. If there is a need for more testing, another session will be set up later.

In order to get the test, local citizens must call and make an appointment. The number for the appointments will be released Tuesday morning, April 28.

For more information about the testing, click here to read the previous Breckenridge Texan article.

For all of the Breckenridge Texan’s COVID-19 articles, click here to visit the Coronavirus News page.


Story by Carla McKeown and Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Cutline, top photo: The Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce has posted a sign in Foundation Park, on the corner of Walker Street and Breckenridge Avenue, suggesting a variety of ways that the community can support local businesses during the coronavirus situation. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)



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