Caldwell County judge issues stay-home, stay-safe order
By Wesley Gardner
Editor’s note: this story will be updated as new information comes in or statements from local officials are received by the Post-Register
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden at a specially called meeting on Monday issued a stay-home, stay-safe order that will go into effect at 10 p.m. Tuesday in response to the county’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.
The 30-year-old individual has been quarantined in a medical facility outside of Caldwell County. County officials said no further information about the person in question can be released due to statewide privacy regulations.
“This order is intended to strike a healthy balance between protecting the citizens of Caldwell County from the rapid spread of COVID-19 and keeping our local economy from collapsing,” said Haden, noting the order is effective until April 8th and will be extended, if needed, for two weeks at a time until the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declares the emergency over.
Under the order, social gatherings are prohibited completely. All individuals currently living in Caldwell County are ordered to remain and stay in their homes. Residences are allowed to leave their home for essential activities, including shopping for groceries and supplies needed to work from home, picking up take-out orders from restaurants, traveling to educational institutions to pick up materials for distance learning or meals, caring for a family member or pet, picking up prescriptions and exchanging children between guardians.
Residents may also leave their home to exercise in shared or outdoor spaces including parks but must at all times as reasonably possible maintain at least a six-foot distance between themselves and others. All park equipment, however, including work-out equipment and playscapes, are closed for public use.
The order also stipulates that all businesses operating in the county that are not defined as essential will be required to cease all operations at their offices or facilities. Individuals can continue to operate businesses from their homes without regard to homeowner’s association restrictions stating otherwise.
To see a full list of essential businesses, view the order by visiting http://www.co.caldwell.tx.us/upload/page/4091/Stay%20Home%20Stay%20Safe.pdf and read Section 5, subsection G.
Failure to comply with this order can result in a $1,000 fee or confinement in jail not to exceed 180 days.
Dr. Charles Laurence, the county’s top medical official, was on hand at Monday’s meeting to provide the best practices available for residents to stay safe and help stop the spread of the virus.
Because the virus is primarily transmitted through particles created from coughing and sneezing, Laurence said it’s vital that residents use good hygiene measures, including washing their hands often for at least 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer, not touching their faces, covering any coughs or sneezes with their elbows, and sanitizing any objects or surfaces they might come into to contact with.
“Hygiene is really the critical issue for all of us to focus on,” said Laurence.
According to Laurence, residents should routinely disinfect commonly used inanimate objects found in their homes, including doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, video game controllers, surfaces, cell phones, tablets, keyboards and anything else that might be touched.
Laurence noted it was important for residents to practice these measures both inside their homes and anytime they might need to leave to perform an essential task.
“If you’re outside of your house, there’s a greater risk for exposure,” said Laurence “That’s not to say that we have to worry in a huge way about that, but we just need to be mindful that we can do several things to minimize our risk by being out in the community”
Among those measures include residents bringing hand sanitizer along with them, if they can, and using it to wipe down shopping cart handles if wipes aren’t available at the store. He said residents should also use hand sanitizer or wash their hands after coming into contact with objects such as door handles and gas pumps.
When shopping in stores, Laurence said residents should keep a six-foot distance from other shoppers and encourage people who might not be using good hygiene measures to do so.
“If you see someone coughing that’s spitting and sputtering and they’re not covering, ask them, ‘Hey, can you cover?’” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Laurence also stressed the importance of residents refraining from touching their faces, noting when people touch an object that may be contaminated and then touch their face without cleaning their hands, they’re potentially exposing themselves to the virus.
According to Laurence, this is one of the most difficult measures to comply with because people often touch their faces without thinking about it or even realizing they’re doing it.
Laurence said one tool residents can use to help train themselves to refrain from touching their faces is to wear a bandana at home to help people realize when they’re unconsciously doing it.
The CDC lists the symptoms for coronavirus as having a fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath.
“Shortness of breath sometimes can be a very subjective symptom, so one needs to consider, is this shortness of breath different from your baseline?” said Laurence. “Is this shortness of breath that is occurring because you’re anxious or nervous, or is this shortness of breath because you’re having difficulty walking to and from places in your house, which would be distinctly different from your usual baseline.”
Laurence said anybody experiencing these symptoms should contact their medical provider to determine whether they need to be tested.
Testing is still not readily available in Caldwell County and is being prioritized for places like hospitals, Laurence said, noting even people who go to testing centers in metropolitan areas are still being screened before tests are administered.
“Until we have an abundance of testing and we’re able to test people, don’t hang your hat on the idea saying that that’s going to make or breaks us, because it may not,” Laurence said, noting that currently only about 10 percent of the people who have been tested in Texas have tested positive. “Until we have tests that are more readily available, the things we discussed today – hand hygiene, not touching your face, sanitizing as best we can … all of those are means of defense, and right now, that’s what we should do.
“If we do that, we can significantly impact [the spread of] this disease.”
Following the announcement of the order, Lockhart Mayor Lew White voiced his support of the measure.
“I support Judge Haden’s Stay Home Stay Safe order and agree it is a necessary step our local governments need to take to protect the people we serve,” said White. “Please read the order in its entirety, especially the answers to questions that have been frequently asked when other Texas counties have instituted Stay Home Stay Safe orders.
“The City of Lockhart stands in solidarity with Caldwell County, the county’s school districts and other cities within the county. We are united in our efforts to help curb the spread of COVID-19, and we thank you for your patience and compliance. Stay home and stay safe.”