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Coronavirus: Caldwell County, city of Lockhart declare states of emergency

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By Wesley Gardner
LPR Editor

Federal, state, county and local governments throughout Texas have declared states of emergency and disaster over the last week in response to the growing outbreak of the coronavirus.
As of Tuesday night, there were now more than 4,200 confirmed cases in the United States, up from roughly 1,700 cases on Friday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Donald Trump declared the outbreak a national emergency on Friday, saying it will allow the federal government to be far more aggressive with its response to the outbreak, including greatly expanding the availability of testing.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also declared a state of disaster for all counties throughout the state on Friday.
On Tuesday, Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden amended a local state of disaster declaration issued the day before. The new declaration, which will last for 21 days, bars gatherings of more than 50 people.
“Due to some of the developments that have gone on over the last two or three days, and really all weekend, I have decided to ask commissioners to reduce the amount of people for mass gatherings,” said Haden, noting the order referred to social gatherings, planned or spontaneous, which would include restaurants, bars, churches and other areas where groups meet socially.
The order does not extend to grocery stores or places of employment that don’t provide venues or opportunities for social gatherings.
Haden said the declaration applies to all areas in the county, both incorporated and unincorporated, but noted cities within the county had the option to enact stricter regulations if they deemed it necessary.
Violation of the order is punishable as a Class C misdemeanor by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
Haden said there were still no confirmed cases in Caldwell County, noting officials are closely monitoring the situation and will alter the stipulations of the disaster declaration prior to the end of the 21-day period, if needed.
At Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Lockhart Mayor Lew White instituted similar restrictions throughout the city.
“Due to the recent concerns over the coronavirus spread, several communities have begun the process of declaring local states of disaster,” said White. “I’m issuing that declaration on behalf of the city tonight.
“This declaration is not issued lightly. It’s issued in conjunction and in recognition of the action recently taken by the county in protection of its citizens and in the interest of the general public health.”
White noted the declaration bars all gatherings of 50 or more people.
“A gathering generally refers to a scheduled event or common endeavor where 50 people are present in a confined space, room or area,” said White. “The limitation on the size of gatherings shall extend to commercial, retail, wholesale, industrial, service, eating and entertainment establishments, with the exception of grocery stores.
“The representatives of such establishments shall be responsible for monitoring and enforcing the limitation on the size of the gatherings.”
The order does not extend to grocery stores or places of employment that don’t provide venues or opportunities for social gatherings.
Violation of the order is punishable as a Class C misdemeanor by a fine not to exceed $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
White noted the declaration will last for seven days. The city will call a special meeting on Tuesday of next week to determine whether the declaration should be extended and will continue to do so each week as needed.
“This requirement on the number of people may change if we start to the reporting of Covid-19 cases in Caldwell County, but as was reported today, there are none,” White said. “We do this in consideration of the public health, and we try to limit as much as we can the effect, especially on small businesses.”
While there have still been no confirmed cases in Caldwell County, Austin and Travis County officials confirmed the first two “presumptive cases” of the virus in the area on Friday, marking the county’s closest encounter to virus yet. The cases are considered presumptive after testing positive by state officials. They are then sent to the Centers for Disease Control for final confirmation.
Lockhart officials have reminded residents they have the option to pay bills online and at drop-off locations to limit face-to-face contact. The online payment option can be found at http://lockhart-tx.org/page/utility_home.
Two centrally located drop boxes are located at the front and back of City Hall — 308 W. San Antonio – and are checked twice a day. A drive-through location can be found at the Municipal Court Building, 1914 W. San Antonio St.
To mitigate risks associated with large crowds, Lockhart officials canceled all the spring break events scheduled at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library through March 31 and has indefinitely postponed the KIDFISH and Welcome Spring Day event that was scheduled for March 21.
Lockhart City Manager Steve Lewis added that Lockhart Senior Center is closed but is still providing meals through delivery. The food bank will still remain open, but only be appoint.
Lewis added, while not official, it appears likely the upcoming Lone Star Grand Prix kart racing will likely be pushed back to next year.
According to Lewis, the Lockhart Police Department has been taking some police reports by phone to limit face-to-face interactions when not necessary.
“If it’s not time sensitive or a critical emergency, we’re trying to do things over the phone,” he said.
During his address, Gov. Abbott told Texans on Friday there was no need to hoard or panic-buy supplies, though many stores in Lockhart have seen bare shelves.
To address the issue, HEB officials announced Saturday morning that stores throughout the state would be opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. to give overnight crews more time to restock important items associated with hindering the spread of the virus.
On Friday, HEB officials issued a press release stating the company was still in a strong position to restock shelves and encouraged customers to remain calm.
Wal-Mart stores throughout the country are taking similar measures, changing hours of operation nationwide to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to give staff members additional time to restock.
For more information about symptoms and strategies to minimize exposure, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

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