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Waco, McLennan County issue shelter-in-place order; county cases rise to 20

Waco, McLennan County issue shelter-in-place order; county cases rise to 20

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Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver on Monday followed the lead of Dallas County in ordering Waco residents to shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic, requiring them to stay home except for activities deemed essential.

McLennan County commissioners Monday morning approved similar measures to go into effect countywide. Both orders were to go into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday.

Meanwhile, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District announced three new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 20. One patient has been hospitalized.

Texas had reported at least 352 cases of COVID-19 as of Monday at noon, including the first confirmed case in Falls County, and eight deaths related to the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

In addition to the state and McLennan County numbers, the Bell County Public Health District on Monday announced another 13 new confirmed cases, bringing Bell County’s total to 16. Bell County officials also issued a shelter in place order, effective from 11:59 p.m. Monday to April 4.

Under the Waco and McLennan County orders, residents may only leave home for three reasons, while maintaining a 6-foot distance from other people. Those reasons are:

  • To perform “essential activities” such as getting food, health care, veterinary services and outdoor exercise.
  • To participate in “essential government activity.”
  • To work in “essential businesses” such as the food industry, child care, public health and safety, infrastructure, delivery, transportation, construction and selected types of retail.

Among businesses that closed will be hair and nail salons, barbershops and clothing stores.

The shelter-in-place order comes almost a week after Deaver declared a state of local disaster and public health emergency for Waco on March 17 that closed bars and in-restaurant dining, as well as gyms, pool halls, bowling alleys and similar spaces.

Restaurants may remain open only for takeout and delivery meals. All travel is banned except to work and for crucial errands, and all public and social gatherings are prohibited with a few narrow exceptions in which social distancing must be practiced.

The order also requires all public, private and commercial labs in Waco that perform COVID-19 testing to report the number of tests performed, including the number of positive tests, to the health district by 5 p.m. each day.

Violation of the order will result in a Class C misdemeanor citation, which could include a fine up to $1,000. The order is effective for seven days, but the Waco City Council meets in an online format at 9 a.m. Tuesday and will consider extending it to April 7.

Deaver said he was disappointed that Gov. Greg Abbott stopped short of instituting such measures during his news conference Sunday, although he noted that Abbott encouraged cities to take such steps. Dallas County instituted a similar order Sunday.

“It is important to implement these measures over as broad a geographic region as possible because of the very nature of an infectious disease pandemic,” Deaver said, adding that McLennan County has a higher per capita rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases than Dallas County.

“I know many will say that we are taking this action too early,” he said. “I have been convinced by the health care officials, including our local health experts, that it is more important to act early than to wait. This action is inevitable, and the sooner we take it the better chance we have of getting ahead of this.”

Additionally, Deaver urged people to observe grocery store item purchase limits so everyone has the supplies they need and for only one member of the household to go to the store at a time to help maintain social distancing and to prevent the spread of disease.

He also said anyone who needs to use wireless internet, to file for unemployment benefits for example, can access WiFi in all Waco library parking lots and the Waco Convention Center parking lot from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Waco city parks will remain open, but public restrooms will be locked and other coronavirus control measures, such as social distancing and no gatherings of more than 10 people, will be in place, city parks officials said.

“Get out and enjoy our great parks,” Deaver said in the announcement Monday. “Use this time to create special memories with your families.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Koehne and Bosque Parks are open, as is the Waco dam’s hike-and-bike access points. Twin Bridges and Airport Beach are closed for maintenance. Boat ramps at Speegleville, Midway, Flat Rock, Airport Park, Lacy Point and Koehne Park are open.

Camping has been closed at Lake Waco parks with reservations for dates through May 15 being cancelled.

In Dallas County, residents were ordered Sunday to stay in their homes except for crucial work and errands, and officials there urged leaders of other counties to enact the same measures, the Dallas Morning News reported.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins imposed the strictest limits in the state Sunday on social gatherings, work and movement as the number of deaths reached three and confirmed coronavirus cases eclipsed 100.

At a press conference Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott declined to issue orders for Texas residents to shelter in place, saying he wanted to see the effectiveness of his recent executive order that temporarily closed schools and banned gatherings of more than 10 people before taking stricter measures. He also noted that some areas of the state had not seen many COVID-19 cases and that the actions needed in one area to slow the spread of disease may not be necessary elsewhere.

“At this time, it is not the appropriate approach to mandate that same strict standard across every area of the state, especially at a time when we are yet to see the results coming out of my most recent executive order,” Abbott said. “That said, as I have said before, I will always remain flexible.”

In related news, Mexia Independent School District notified families Sunday that a Mexia High School band trip sponsor had tested positive for COVID-19, Superintendent Lyle DuBus said. The sponsor does not live in Mexia and has returned to his home outside of Limestone County. DuBus recommended anyone with symptoms of fever, cough and difficulty breathing should call their health care provider for instructions.

Anyone experiencing fever, cough and difficulty breathing should call or visit their healthcare provider’s website first for screening. Ascension Providence, Baylor Scott & White and the Waco Family Health Center have online screening forms for COVID-19 and will accept new patients and people without insurance. Testing must be ordered by a physician and sent to a lab.

The health district is now recommending people with flu-like symptoms isolate themselves at home, away from family members, as if they have the disease, even if they have been refused a COVID-19 test. People experiencing symptoms should remain in contact with their doctors on how long to isolate themselves and what to do if their symptoms worsen.

What sheltering in place means for Waco residents:

  • Anyone residing in the city must stay in their home, apartment or hotel or motel room, except for essential activities.
  • You may leave to go to work at an essential business or to run an errand, such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy or doctor’s office. You may also leave to care for another family member or pet.
  • Outdoor exercise is allowed, but you must remain 6 feet away from people.
  • All gatherings outside a household are banned, regardless of size.
  • Waco Transit will continue to operate, but it will allow only 10 people to ride in each vehicle at a time.
  • Essential jobs include health care, construction, airport operations, utilities, first responders, law enforcement and certain government jobs.
  • Essential businesses allowed to continue operating include health care operations, grocery stores, farmers markets, convenience stores, liquor stores, social services operations, gas stations, banks, hardware and construction supply stores, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, shipping and mailing services, laundry services, restaurants with delivery or takeout food, schools that provide pick-up meals, office supply stores, airlines, taxis, residential facilities, legal services, accounting services, insurance providers, real estate services, child care facilities, utilities, trash services, animal shelters, janitorial and maintenance services, funeral homes and technology industry companies.
  • Restaurants may not allow patrons to wait inside for their orders and are urged to develop a system that prevents lines and allows customers to pick up their orders from their vehicles.
  • Child care facilities must only allow 12 or fewer children in one stable group each day. “Stable” means the same children are in the same group each day. If more than one group is cared for at a single facility, each group must be kept separate from one another, and child care providers must not change groups.

Carl Hoover and Tommy Witherspoon contributed to this report.

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