April 1, 2020 458 PM
TRI-COUNTY – Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara signed an order late Tuesday night that directs county residents to stay at home except to carry out specific essential activities and continue essential business and government functions. It echoes orders from Jeff Davis and Brewster counties, which also went into effect Tuesday night.
The Presidio and Brewster county orders also initiate a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and Presidio County changed some rules around hotel occupancy.
Even though confirmed cases have not reached the tri-county area, the three judges worked together to release stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders that will largely keep residents in their homes for the next few weeks. The coordinated effort is intended to stop coronavirus from arriving in the area and inundating the one hospital, Big Bend Regional Medical Center, that the region shares among its over 18,000 residents.
All of the orders allow for critical businesses like gas stations, grocery stores, the media and more to continue operations. The orders allow for continued infrastructure construction, including housing.
Judge Guevara said she worked with the other tri-county judges, the mayor of Marfa, the mayor of Presidio and the city administrators, “because whatever happens in one town affects another.”
“What happens in Alpine affects us, and what happens in Marfa affects Fort Davis,” she said. “It’s been nice to work that way and share information.”
Presidio County also amended a previous order that shuttered hotels completely. Hotels, motels and short term rentals will now be allowed to open only for guests who have established the rental as their primary place of residence, or if the customer is active military, law enforcement, national reserve, emergency service personnel to support city, county, state and school district operations or healthcare professionals and employees.
Judge Guevara’s order went into effect Tuesday night and will extend to the end of April 7. On April 8, commissioners will meet via Zoom to discuss continuing the order further. Those who knowingly violate the order can face up to $1,000 in fines.
On Monday, Jeff Davis County Judge Kerith Sproul-Hurley was the first of the tri-county judges to implement a mandatory shelter-in-place order. It also began Tuesday night and will last through the end of April 24, since it was simultaneously approved unanimously by Jeff Davis commissioners. It dictates that Jeff Davis County residents must shelter in their current place of residence, and public and private gatherings are prohibited. Single households or “living units” are allowed to congregate together in their home.
In the orders, restaurants are limited to take-out and delivery. Religious services must occur by video or teleconference, and their staff gatherings cannot exceed 10 people and must maintain six-foot distances. Medical and veterinary clinics in the area can only perform surgeries that are not elective, or surgeries that cannot be delayed beyond the COVID crisis.
Residents may travel to get medicine, groceries, exercise and supplies to maintain their safety and sanitation. They may travel to care for family members outside their home and if they are deemed essential.
Violating the Jeff Davis County order could result in an up to $1,000 fine as well, but goes a step further by also saying it could include a jail term that does not exceed 180 days.
Next door in Brewster County, Judge Eleazar Cano soon followed in Jeff Davis County’s footsteps. On Tuesday, the judge’s office released a statement that said, “In keeping with the commitment from local leadership of being ‘proactive’ vs. ‘reactive’ in our approach to mitigating variables related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the decision has been arrived at to activate the ‘shelter in place’ directive.”
Going into effect that same night, the order keeps residents inside except for “essential activities,” “essential government functions” and “essential businesses.” Non-essential businesses must cease operations in their physical facilities, just like in Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.
Travel on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile and public transit is prohibited except for those essential purposes, which are listed extensively in the order and include groceries, restaurants with delivery or carry-out, healthcare, media, childcare and other important industries.
Brewster County ordered a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. for residents unless they were engaging in essential functions, which Presidio County later implemented as well.
Cano acknowledged that the sheer size of Brewster County meant citizens would need to take responsibilities for their own choices and behaviors, since it would be “impossible to monitor every square mile of our vast county.” He asked residents to remember for the sake of the community that “integrity is what happens when no one is looking.” In Brewster County, knowingly violating the order can result in a fine up to $1,000.
The full text of the three county orders and the details of essential businesses and activities are available at www.bigbendsentinel.com/shelter-in-place.