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Richards signs shelter in place order

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Kaufman County Judge Hal Richards signed a “shelter in place” order Tuesday afternoon in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25. It will expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 8 – subject to extension. The April 8 date was chosen to conform with other jurisdictions.

As of Tuesday morning, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Kaufman County.

The shelter-in-place order requires people who are not engaged in essential services or businesses to stay home. People may still make trips to the grocery store or pharmacy or to medical-related appointments.

The order includes people living in their homes, hotels, motels, and shared rentals. People outside must maintain social distancing of at least six feet. Restaurants may provide only take-out, delivery or drive-thru services. Worship services may be provided only by video and teleconference, and religious institutions must limit in-person staff to 10 or fewer. Under the order, all elective medical, surgical and dental procedures are prohibited.

“Our medical professionals have asked all of us to stay home as much as possible so they may continue to provide care for those in need and curtail the spread of this virus,” Richards said in a prepared statement. “This is the purpose of the shelter in place order for Kaufman County as well as our neighboring counties taking similar action. While it is understood this order will cause inconvenience and financial challenges, it is everyone’s responsibility to our communities to do our part to stop this pandemic from getting worse.”

Employees consider “essential” include those working in the healthcare industry, public safety, electric industry, oil and natural gas, water and wastewater, transportation and logistics, public works, communications and information technology, governmental operations, critical manufacturing, financial services, chemical, defense, essential retail  (grocery stores, warehouses, gas stations, etc.), childcare providers, news media, and trash and recycling. The order and a complete list of essential services and businesses are available on the Kaufman County website.

In addition, if someone in a household tests positive for the corona virus, everyone in the household are ordered to isolate at home. They may not go to work, school or any community function.

Non-essential visitors will not be permitted inside nursing homes and elderly care facilities unless to provide critical assistance or end-of-life visitation.

People who violate the order are subject to a $1,000 fine and/or up to 180 days in jail.

Sheriff Bryan Beavers told the commissioners court Tuesday that his department’s objective is to achieve voluntary compliance. County officials want harsh enforcement action reserved for only the most egregious violations.

Although Kaufman County had no reported cases Tuesday, what lies beyond is unknown.

Said Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Hunt: “Personally, I don’t think Kaufman County is aware of where we’re going to be in two weeks. The dynamics could be fast paced. We can go with sitting here with nothing to being overrun relatively quick.”

Kaufman County, which has an estimated 128,000 people, has one hospital, the 91-bed Texas Health Presbyterian in Kaufman, although many more beds exit in the Metroplex. Richards said he spoke with county Health Officer Dr. Benjamin Brashear about medical capacity.

“His point was that it’s not how much bed space you have, it’s more about personnel and the ability to staff it,” said Richards.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a stay in place order Sunday for Dallas County, which reported 169 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. Precinct 2 Commissioner Skeet Phillips said he believed Jenkins’ order and the accompanying media coverage has made an impact.

“I think people are really starting to understand that they really do not need to (be out mingling). I think people are a little more intelligent than we give them credit for. I hope they keep this up. I hope they really understand that this is the main way that we’re going to block (transmission) and drop the line and flatten it out is by separating and not transmitting this virus to one another.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner said he agreed with Phillips. “To paraphrase what the president said yesterday, and to agree with you Skeet, we can rebuild the economy but we can’t rebuild a life that might be lost by a failure to act.”

In his statement, Richards struck an optimistic note.

“Together we will make a difference, and I am looking forward to this virus passing and life (getting) back to normal.