First COVID-19 cases confirmed in Williamson County

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Managing Editor
  Williamson County health officials announced the first four known cases of the COVID-19 virus in the county Wednesday afternoon, and said with the expansion of testing for the virus that number is expected to climb. 
  The four cases include a female in her 40s who has been self-quarantined, a male in his 50s with exposure to a known case, an infant who is a close contact with a separate known case, and a female in her 40s who has known travel history to France.
  The Williamson County and Cities Health District will identify potential contacts exposed to the virus and provide close contacts guidance about the virus and monitor them for the development of symptoms.
  In response to these cases, County Judge Bill Gravell announced two additional measures in the county intended to help minimize the spread of the virus.
  Days after issuing rules limiting gatherings to 50 people, Gravell dropped that number to 10, saying that the rule applied to all gatherings including church services, weddings and funerals.
  Gravell also announced that during the county disaster declaration – which was extended Wednesday until the Commissioners Court takes action on it – common dining areas in restaurants and common indoor and outdoor bar spaces are to be closed. 
 Restaurants will be able to remain open for carry out and delivery service only.
Local changes
 Mayor Rick Hall signed a disaster declaration Monday for the City of Liberty Hill. The City joins the cities of Georgetown, Leander, Cedar Park and Williamson County locally in making the disaster declaration.
  “It sets us up in case anything escalates with coronavirus so that we can receive federal and state funds when they are allocated,” Hall said. “Judge Gravell issued a disaster declaration and we are adhering to his declaration 100 percent. There will be no mass gatherings over 50 people and we are cancelling all public meetings excluding City Council, the Economic Development Corporation and Planning and Zoning up to May 11.”
  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott approved the suspension of certain open-meeting statutes this week, allowing for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies that are accessible to the public in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that assemble large groups of people.
  Requirements for holding a telephonic or video-conference meeting include: allowing the public to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or video-conference meeting; the governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and that includes an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting; and the governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or video-conference meeting.
 The City of Liberty Hill and Liberty Hill ISD, both of which have meetings scheduled for Monday, March 23, have not indicated they plan to use the telephonic or videoconference option for their meeting.
 
Community events
  Hall added that two downtown music events slated for Friday and Sunday had been cancelled. The Liberty Hill Fair and Rodeo and the Panther Pit Crew BBQ Cookoff have been postponed with a new date yet to be determined. At the present time the Whimsy & Wonder Festival planned for May 16 is still scheduled. 
  Municipal court dockets for April 6 and May 4 have been cancelled. 
  The March Chamber of Commerce Lunch & Learn and the police department’s Donuts with the Chief have been cancelled as well.
 
Public Library closure
  The Liberty Hill Public Library announced the library will be closed through April 2, with a current plan to open again at 10 a.m., April 3. No fines will be assessed during the closure and patrons are encouraged to keep all library materials until it reopens.
 
Liberty Hill Youth League
  All Liberty Hill Youth League facilities are closed effective immediately and all scheduled practices, on and off-site, have been suspended until April 6, and league officials have said their future plans for resuming practices and games will most likely follow the schedule adopted by the school district going forward.
 
Over the Hill Gang
  The weekly lunch on Thursdays for the Over the Hill Gang have been suspended through April 16.
 
Election options
  Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation Wednesday allowing for the postponement of local elections scheduled for May 2.
  Both the City of Liberty Hill and Liberty Hill ISD have elections scheduled for May 2.
  Under the rules of the postponement option, the filing period would not be reopened and only the candidates currently on the ballot would be eligible for the later election that would be held Nov. 3 in conjunction with the general election.
  Hall said the issue would be on the March 23 City Council agenda to consider.
 
Leander precautions
  Leander also made a disaster declaration this week. The city has closed public access to athletic fields at Benbrook Ranch Park and Bledsoe Park. This may impact games and practices organized by Leander Little League, Leander Youth Soccer, and other team-based youth and adult sporting activities.
  The city has also postponed all scheduled Active Adult (ages 55+) programs and activities until further notice. Park open spaces remain accessible to the public, and no other regularly scheduled city programs, events, meetings or activities are affected at this time.
 
County update
  The Williamson County Jail has suspended visitation until Gov.  Abbott’s state disaster declaration is lifted or expires. In addition, the Juvenile Justice Center has enacted temporary procedures for phone visits only. 
 The Williamson County Justice Center remains open to fulfill its essential mission; however, it is implementing changes to reduce public gatherings in the building. Through April 1, judges are temporarily suspending jury trials to avoid the large gathering of potential jurors, and courts will limit activity in the courtroom to maintain no more than 20 people in the courtroom at a time.
 
State-level changes
 Gov.  Abbott declared a State of Disaster in all Texas counties March 13, and activated the Texas Army National Guard Tuesday though there has been no corresponding call up to active service.
  Declaring a State of Disaster triggers a number of action, including:
• Authorizing the use of all available and necessary state government resources to help manage this situation.
• Activating the state emergency management plan and the State Operations Center to enhance the state’s planning and response capabilities.
• Giving Texas Department of Emergency Management the ability to reassign and fully utilize appropriate personnel where they are needed most.
• Providing the immediate ability to move resources around the state, including resources obtained through the Strategic National Stockpile.
• Empowering the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) to pursue cases of price-gouging and ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  Abbott also directed state agencies to restrict visitations at certain facilities. This directive allows limited exceptions for situations like end-of-life visitations and requires all individuals to go through proper screening.
  Agencies will be restricting visitation at the following facilities:
• Nursing homes
• State-supported living centers
• Hospitals
• Daycare facilities
• Prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities
  Abbott is also directing state agencies to take any action necessary to facilitate telemedicine. In addition, he is directing state agencies to provide flexible work and tele-work policies to employees to give them the ability to care for their families, while ensuring the state government continues function at full capacity and provide all necessary services.
 Texas Public Health Labs now have the capacity to test over 270 people per day according to Abbott, with more private labs coming online every day. Additionally, the City of San Antonio has announced the opening of the first drive-through testing facility in Texas. This facility will serve first responders, healthcare workers, operators of critical infrastructure and key resources, and certain high-risk patients. Other major cities are working to implement drive-through testing sites that will be run and managed at the local level.
  In response to public school concerns, Abbott said Texas is pursuing waivers for federal regulations for the school lunch program to give districts flexibility to provide students food should districts shut down due to the coronavirus.
  Texans who suspect a case of price-gouging in connection to the potential coronavirus threat should file a consumer complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Attorney General or call the hotline at1-800-621-0508.
Abbott has announced that Texas is waiving certain rules relating to vehicle registration, parking placards for persons with disabilities, and titling to aid the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19. These suspensions will allow Texans to avoid penalties for failure to timely title or register a vehicle, or renew a parking placard. The waivers fall within the actions the Governor is taking under the State of Disaster he declared last week, and are part of Texas’ efforts to reduce in-person contact among Texans and slow the spread of COVID-19. Abbott also directed the Texas Department of Public Safety to temporarily waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses, Commercial Driver Licenses, and other identification forms.
  The Governor will work with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure law enforcement officers throughout the state are aware of these waivers. The Department of Motor Vehicles will also continue to provide registration renewal services online at renew.txdmv.gov. For additional information, Texans should contact the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles at (888) 368-4689.
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