Williamson, Travis counties issue ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ order

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Leaders in Williamson and Travis counties came together Tuesday to issue what is being called a Stay Home Stay Safe order to cover all of both counties effective at midnight.

“I signed an order effective at midnight tonight for Williamson County to stay home and stay safe,” said Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell. “What we’re really asking Central Texans to do is to come together and care for those that are around us.”

The order encourages nonessential businesses to close, people to work from home, and stay home as much as possible to enhance social distancing.

Gravell joined county and city officials from throughout the two-county area to discuss the details of the orders – which were issued by the different governing entities – and the importance of adherence.

The new order emphasizes enhanced social distancing practices to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“Our best enforcement in this challenge is our responsibility to each other,” said Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. “COVID-19 depends on us to pass it from person to person and we have a small window of opportunity in which to flatten the spike of infection by taking aggressive steps right now. If it is not an essential activity, or an essential business, we’re asking folks to stay home and to stay safe.”

According to Dr. Mark Escott, Health Authority for the City of Austin and Travis County, the reason to act now is to address what is projected down the road if no action is taken.

“Due to modeling that we’ve seen, we certainly suspect that even at this stage we have many more than that. We know we’re challenged by testing,” he said. “We know we’re challenged by getting folks through and getting results in a timely fashion.”

Escott said as of Tuesday there were 86 cases of the virus confirmed in Travis County, but he emphasized that projecting future numbers was critical in working to avoid having to make decisions later when options are limited and limiting the spread is no longer an option.

“That modeling suggests that in the next three to four weeks our hospitals could reach capacity,” Escott said. “It suggests to us that if we put schools back in session, if we put the businesses back on, if we allow people to go back to restaurants and bars and businesses today that by May we will need to be able to provide nearly 20,000 hospital beds a day for our community alone.”

The key is promoting even more social distancing.

“Right now we believe, before today, that we’ve been at 50 percent social distancing through the actions we’ve already taken,” Escott said. “That has bought us valuable time and we acted early. Now we’re hoping this action will get us to at least 75 percent. But I want to be very clear, we need to be at 90 percent. That takes all of you making individual decisions to stay home, to work from home and to only go out if you need essential things. If you don’t need essential things you need to stay home, to be with your family and to connect with the world virtually.”

The order does not require residents to stay home, but calls on the closing of all non-essential businesses, and says that when residents leave their home for essential needs that they do so alone and not with others.

The order spells out what constitutes essential businesses and activities:
• Tasks that are essential to maintain health and safety, such as going to the hospital, obtaining medicine from pharmacies, clinics, veterinary offices and other healthcare service facilities 
• Getting necessary supplies for you, your family or household members, such as groceries, pet food, food bank, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, carry-out or delivery restaurants, and other essentials for staying at home
• Getting to work for essential businesses or services, including roles needed to maintain basic operations such as security, payroll, and similar activities
• Engaging in outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking or running—just as long as you maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing
• Caring for a family member in another household, and caring for elderly people, minors, dependents, people with disabilities or other vulnerable persons
• Childcare facilities providing services that enable essential employees to continue functioning
• Gas stations and auto repair facilities
• Banks and financial institutions
• Critical infrastructure including energy, water, solid waste collection and other governmental services
• Hardware stores, plumbers, electricians, and other service providers necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and other essential businesses
• Educational institutions, for the purposes of facilitating distance learning
• Businesses that provide social services and necessities of life for economically disadvantaged individuals and shelter facilities

But when pressed on the issue of what businesses should or should not close, Eckhardt emphasized that individuals needed to consider how essential the need to conduct business or be out in public is for them.

“What we’re saying in this order is if your business is not essential to health and safety during this time of COVID-19, we are asking you to cease operations to the extent that you can’t operate at home or underneath our minimum basic operations requirements in the order itself,” Eckhardt said.

Liberty Hill Mayor Rick Hall, who was not in attendance at the press conference, said he supported Gravell’s decision.

“We will follow suit with that and we will uphold that order here in Liberty Hill,” Hall said. “I support it, unfortunately it has had a little bit of a negative impact on the economics of the area. We are just trying to limit the exposure circle so this is going to have an effect on people. I get that, but I think it is for our best interest to keep our people, our citizens, our employees and our families safe.”

While the orders issued Tuesday did not address school closures, which are already in place until April 6, Escott went a step further with his own request.

“I’ve recommended to school districts – private and public schools – that they remain closed for the remainder of the semester,” he said. “The modeling we will be sharing in the next few days indicates very clearly that is a basic and necessary step to substantially mitigate this threat. If we don’t do that we will not be effective.”

Local case update
The Williamson County and Cities Health District (WCCHD) announced five new positive COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the County’s total to 19.

The individuals are:
• A male in his 40s with travel to an area with community spread 
• A female in her 80s with exposure to a confirmed case 
• A female in her 40s with unknown exposure source 
• A male in his 50s with unknown exposure source 
• A male in his 30s with exposure to a confirmed case 

The 19 cases are spread throughout the County with six in Georgetown, five in Cedar Park, three each in Austin and Round Rock and two in Leander.

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