Orange County Judge declares COVID-90 disaster
For The Record
County Judge John Gothia declared a local state of disaster Tuesday morning that covers Orange County in response to the imminent threat of widespread illness posed by the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
At Tuesday afternoon’s 2 p.m. Orange County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Gothia said there has not been any confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Per the authority granted by the Texas Government Code, Gothia ordered:
· Any event sponsored by or permitted by Orange County shall cease effective immediately.
· Events involving more than 50 persons shall cease at all locations throughout Orange County.
· Nursing homes and senior living centers shall limit visitation of the public within their facilities.
· A 24-hour curfew shall be in place for all individuals under the age of 18 who are not in school or accompanied by a parent, guardian or school personnel.
The under-18 curfew, Gothia explained, was to prevent youngsters from gathering in crowds in which the virus might be transmitted.
“The biggest lesson in all of this is that younger people can get it and show no signs of it and never know they have it,” the judge said. “They can show no or very little signs of it, but they can take it home to their grandmother, their grandfather, their aunt or uncle, someone who’s elderly, someone who already has a preexisting condition, and pass it on to them.
“Then things ramp up a lot worse. That’s what we’re trying to stop.”
Southeast Texas leaders have been meeting since last week to come up with a plan.
“We did issue this declaration this morning,” Gothia said Tuesday, “and it was after a whole lot of talk and discussion with our city mayors, our city managers, our school districts, especially in the nine-county region that essentially fits into Congressman [Brian] Babin’s district.
“We all met multiple times, have been on multiple conference calls with the governor, and taking our direction from the CDCP [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and their recommendations, we came to a conclusion of what we were going to do as a county and a region.
“All counties are doing essentially the same thing. All the school districts are implementing some sort of what they call a “flexible education program that they will determine by their own school districts to meet “the 50.”
“Manage the 50” is the battle cry in Orange County now, based on the CDC recommendation of no mass gatherings of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.
That has led to schools developing their own “flexible education programs” which can either be via online sources or send-home work. Schools may ask students to come to campus but only in groups under 50 in number.
No businesses are being closed but they are being asked to “Manage the 50.” Anyone who suspects they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should call their doctor or medical provider first before seeking a test. If a person has no regular doctor or medical facility, call 409-246-5188 for further testing.
Gothia said that the county had received no coronavirus testing kits from the state or federal government by Tuesday evening and didn’t know when tests might be available locally.
“Don’t panic,” Commissioner Johnny Trahan advised. “We’re going to get through this.”
“Kids, do your homework,” Commissioner Theresa Beauchamp, a former school principal, said. “This is not a vacation.”
Three area schools, Bridge City, Orangefield and West Orange-Stark, are on spring break this week. Little Cypress-Mauriceville began its Flexible Education Plan (FEP) Tuesday, which keeps students out of schools but replaces classwork with a “blended instructional approach with both online and paper/pencil learning tasks,” superintendent Stacey Brister said.
The LCM district will reevaluate the plan on Friday, April 3, and consider continuing the FEP or returning to school classes.
In addition to orders about public gatherings, Tuesday’s Emergency Order And Recommendations included price controls for a long list of goods and services, stating that up to a $500 fine per offense can be levied against people who raise their prices for those items above the March 12, 2020 prices.
Gothia said his disaster declaration is good for only 7 days and commissioners will have to meet again Monday at 10 a.m. to vote to continue it another week. The Emergency Order is good for 30 days, he said.
In a related news release Tuesday, it was announced county offices will remain open but citizens are encouraged to phone and email departments to minimize the walk-in traffic.
However, Orange County District Courts and County Courts At Law have suspended Jury trials through April 30. Justice of the Peace offices will also suspend jury trials.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has canceled all inmate visitations, except for attorneys, and outside inmate work crews have been canceled.
County phone numbers and emails can be located on the Orange County website at www.co.orange.tx.us
During Tuesday’s commissioners’ court, the county paid $358,988 in weekly bills while acknowledging the receipt of $422,111 in state sales tax receipts for January and $6.4 million in property tax receipts for February.