The city of New Braunfels and Comal County issued disaster declarations that activated emergency operations against the COVID-19 virus, which confirmed its first case in the county Wednesday morning.
The positive case is travel-related; the county said the patient has been self-quarantined since arriving in the community and has had no contact with the public. No further information was immediately available on the patient’s condition or whereabouts early Wednesday afternoon.
The city’s disaster declaration, signed by Mayor Barron Casteel and City Secretary Patrick Aten, was issued at 7:38 p.m. Tuesday. The county’s was signed by Judge Sherman Krause at 9:26 a.m. Wednesday.
Both declarations will allow the city and county to seek state and federal support and expense reimbursements when resources become available. The county declaration heightened alert levels – from Level Three to Level Two – at its emergency operations center, which oversees public health planning and preparedness throughout the county.
The county declaration remains in effect for seven days, but will likely be extended during a special Commissioners Court meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“Declaring a disaster activates our emergency management plan and gives Comal County the tools to take further action as it becomes necessary,” Krause said.
The city declaration, pursuant to the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, designates the mayor as the city’s Emergency Management Director and allows him to “exercise the powers granted to the governor on an appropriate local scale.”
“We will start working with our state and federal partners in assisting citizens and businesses and are working toward that process,” Casteel said. “The declaration allows us to bring forth those additional resources and adopt rules that protect the public in consultation with public health professionals.”
Casteel said despite adverse social media comments, the city and county have and will continue to work together on posting information as soon as it becomes available.
“At this moment, information is constantly being updated in real time, and the public is being informed as we’re being informed,” he said. “Getting information out to the public is important so that everyone can understand why decisions are being made. The misinformation and other things out there on social media, I can’t speak to that.”
The city declaration, also in effect for seven days, allows “any actions necessary to promote health and suppress disease, including quarantine, and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the City, and fining those who do not comply with the City’s rules.”
Casteel said the resolution will likely be extended by City Council at its next regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday. On Wednesday he and city staffers were preparing other ways to “best inform the public” which will be addressed Monday’s council meeting.
Casteel said the city is not restricting numbers of people in social gatherings or closing bars, restaurants or other businesses, adding future actions taken will be “based on reliable information from medical health professionals.”
“Those and other actions may be necessary, but we will take that action based on accurate information from those professionals,” he said. “Some might see that as an overreaction, but to me the threat of under-reacting is greater.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday issued a proclamation allowing local governments to postpone May 2 elections until Nov. 3, the same date as the national general election.
“I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November,” the governor said in a statement. “Right now, the state’s focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort.”
Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs said candidate filings and mail-in ballots already sent for the May 2 voting will still be valid to those locales – which for now are only encouraged to follow the non-binding directive – opting to postpone elections.
Casteel said the city, county and school districts considered doing the same days ago, and will meet again to make plans as warranted.
“We’ve already had this conversation and if actions need to be made, we can make those changes,” Casteel said. “For the sake of public health, everyone is thinking immediate (actions) and others over the long-term.”
The public health office reported increased numbers of tests submitted by health care providers to state and private labs in recent days, including the positive test confirmed on Wednesday. Casteel urged residents to follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations against mass gatherings and enhanced social distancing.
“We’re urging the public to pay attention and follow the CDC directions and recommendations that are being adopted by cities and counties throughout the state,” Casteel said. “We understand they may be an inconvenience but they are there to promote the health and safety of our residents. But as things change, additional actions may have to be taken.”
Casteel wouldn’t say which actions might be taken or when, saying all would depend on ever evolving events.
“We’re discussing all of the possible actions that may be necessary over the coming days,” he said. “Our goal is to provide information as quickly as possible and information that can lessen the effect of this worldwide pandemic in our community. But any actions or lack of actions we take have consequences – and why we are trying to be very critical when it comes to rolling out responses.”
The city and county are providing information from local, state and federal sources and lists of amended services, civic operational changes through www.nbtexas.org/covid-19 and www.comalcountytx.com/covid19. Residents with questions on coronavirus are urged to call the county’s dedicated hotline, 830-221-1120, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The county on Wednesday said district courts have canceled all jury trials through May 31 and non-jury dockets through April 12.
The tax office will be closing downtown and satellite office lobbies for at the close of business, 4:30 p.m., on Thursday. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has extended dates for vehicle registration renewals, handicapped placards, and title transfers for 60 days; property tax payments accepted at www.comalcountytaxoffice.net.
The city announced free kidney screenings at Westside Community Center are canceled on Monday but will be rescheduled. Gloria Meehan, Comal County Democratic Party chair, said Saturday’s 9 a.m. county party convention at Oak Run Middle School is canceled.
“The Comal County Democratic Party has cancelled any in-person meetings for the foreseeable future, including the convention,” she said Wednesday.
Meehan said delegates to the state convention will be selected from a list of those who registered by Thursday’s deadline. Those with questions should leave messages at 830-620-5739 or at the CCDP website, comalcountydp.org.