Dallas County extended its local disaster declaration to May 20 by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner John Wiley Price voting against the measure. Late in the afternoon, the shelter-in-place order issued by Judge Clay Jenkins was posted to the county’s website and showed an extension until April 30.
Confusion about which of the two orders was being extended was rampant among observers of the meeting. Media outlets reported that the shelter-at-home order had been extended until May 20 after the morning meeting, and then updated reports after the order was published later in the day.
The primary debate among the county commissioners at today’s meeting related to mitigation efforts by the county and economic struggles of businesses suffering under the closure orders. Those restrictions are found in the county’s shelter-at-home order, not the disaster declaration, a much shorter and more general document containing no restrictions.
Price expressed concerns that an extension of the shelter-in-place order nearly sixty days will decimate his community, many of whom live week-to-week.
“I’m having some real trepidation. They can not sustain themselves,” Price said.
He pointed out that liquor stores are allowed to be open in his district because they are deemed essential, but other entrepreneurs, like pawnshop or barbershop owners, aren’t given the opportunity to conduct their businesses even with social distancing.
“A dog can get a haircut, but people in my community can’t get a haircut,” Price expressed with frustration.
County Judge Clay Jenkins replied that the health care community’s rationale for allowing liquor stores to remain open was to keep alcoholics from going into withdrawal and having to visit the hospital emergency room.
The order was extended based on a model presented at the meeting, which projects a surge in cases in mid-April to 400,000 with approximately 17,500 of those needing hospitalization if no measures at distancing are taken, explained Dr. Philip Huang, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services.
With current mitigation measures, the model predicts a high of about 500 hospitalized cases by the end of April. The actual number of cases in Dallas County demonstrates a slowing of the exponential growth of the virus currently, Huang said.
The model is based on continuing the current efforts for sixty days from March 20 and assumes an infection rate of 25 percent of the population. Huang said that doctors at Medical City Hospital in Dallas have utilized this model.
Dallas County currently has 831 active cases of COVID-19 and a population of 2.6 million people.
The judge’s order was also amended yesterday to impose a cap on rental late fees to $15. Commissioner J.J. Koch expressed concern about the legal authority for the county to determine late fees for landlords. He asked that the legal grounds be presented at the April 7 meeting of the Commissioners Court.
The order also prohibits employers from requiring a negative COVID-19 test or note from a physician before an employee can return to work. The county’s reason for this provision is to avoid burdening the health care system.
Koch asked the order to be placed on the agenda for consideration again at the Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday, April 7 at 9:00 a.m. Citizens can provide public comments by registering to speak by Monday at 4:00 p.m.
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Kim Roberts is a regional reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.