Following Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s lead, the city of New Braunfels and Comal County on Wednesday amended respective measures designed to halt the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Abbott’s latest executive orders, issued Tuesday, closed Texas schools through May 4, and added venues to earlier lists of recommended exempt and non-exempt businesses. It fell short of a mandatory statewide shelter order now in effect in 38 states — with Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas and South Carolina among the 12 holdouts.
Abbott’s new statutes, calling for Texans to “minimize social gatherings” and maintain social distancing measures but reversing previous restrictions on church services, take effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
“They are pretty simple — they expand the list of exempt businesses, and the difference between ours and the governor’s only incorporates things listed in his (newest) executive order,” New Braunfels City Manager Robert Camareno said.
Comal County did the same, again stopping short of mandating a stay-at-home order. It said Wednesday it would begin enforcing closures of non-essential businesses listed in Abbott’s order, and more strictly enforce rules to prevent gatherings of people at county-owned boat ramps on Canyon Lake.
The new county order closes gyms, massage establishments, tattoo studios, piercing studios and cosmetology salons defined as non-essential operations.
County Judge Sherman Krause said the Comal County Sheriff’s Office’s COVID-19 Task Force will soon begin “educating” scofflaws “before moving to enforcement if necessary.”
Penalties for non-compliance are a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $1,000.
“The only way we as a county can stop the spread of the coronavirus is to work together and take responsibility for staying home and maintaining the social distancing measures ordered by the governor,” Krause said.
Comal County has stopped short of calling for additional mandatory restrictions in unincorporated areas, which could be a topic when commissioners meet at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday.
“We’re not issuing any new directives — just seeking to enforce those in the governor’s order,” Krause added. “We want to make sure that citizens and businesses are aware of the governor’s directives and are complying with them.”
Abbott’s March 19 disaster declaration and executive orders banned social gatherings of more than 10 people at any time or location, closed schools, bars and restaurants to indoor traffic, along with visits to nursing homes and extended care facilities, through April 3.
He expounded on that Tuesday with restrictions that doctors and even his critics say amount to a stay-at-home order for the state — despite Abbott refusing to call it that.
“This is not a stay-at-home strategy. A stay-at-home strategy would mean that you have to stay home,” Abbott said. “This is a standard based upon essential services and essential activities.”
Democratic State Rep. Chris Turner said Abbott’s recent announcement was “confusing at times,” but a step in the right direction.
“For whatever reason, the governor was unwilling to call this a stay-at-home order,” Turner said.
New Braunfels, Comal fall in line
The city and county issued separate disaster declarations March 17 and followed with mandatory and voluntary measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Braunfels’ “Stay Home/Work Safe” order requiring residents to remain at home and closed non-essential businesses went into effect March 25 and amended with new lists of exempt and non-exempt businesses last Friday.
Earlier Friday, Comal County released a “Stay Home/Work Safely” guidance list of recommended voluntary measures for residents and 1,200 businesses in unincorporated county areas.
Both city and county lists were amended to match Abbott’s latest order, which states “every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”
However, the same order allows houses of worship that cannot conduct remote audio, video or teleconference activities to conduct live services, as long as social distancing measures outlined by the White House and CDC and Texas Department of State Health Services guidelines.
“Our revisions now allow for those services,” Camareno said.
Also Wednesday, the city announced the monthly Planning Commission meeting at 6 p.m. April 7 will be streamed through the online Zoom platform “to ensure the safety of the public and adhere to local and state orders,” said Christopher Looney, the city’s planning and development services director.
Camareno said the April 13 City Council meeting will follow the same format.
“It will be our very first Zoom meeting, which will be interesting — we’ve been testing all of the equipment to make sure all the kinks are worked out before going live next Monday,” he said.
Guadalupe County commissioners on Tuesday stopped short of approving a stay-at-home order. They extended the county’s disaster declaration through April 30, but could evaluate the situation and rescind the declaration before then, County Judge Kyle Kutscher said.
For lists of non-essential businesses as defined by the Texas Department of Emergency Management, visit www.tdem.texas.gov/essentialservices.
Canyon Lake boat ramps
The decision to begin enforcing rules limiting the use of county-owned ramps only for launching and recovering boats at Canyon Lake resulted from a collaboration between Krause, CCSO, criminal district attorney’s office and the county’s Office of Emergency Management.
“Sheriff’s deputies will be monitoring the boat ramps beginning this weekend to make sure they are only being used only to launch and recover boats, not as gathering places or as entry points to the lake shore,” Krause said.
Information about COVID-19, as well as coronavirus-related county office closures and restrictions, is available at www.comalcountytx.com/covid19.
Residents with questions or concerns about the novel coronavirus can call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at 830-221-1120; New Braunfels citizens can visit the city website and social media sites for updates or call the city’s COVID-19 hotline at 830-221-4222. Both hotlines are open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.