Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley believes Gov. Greg Abbott is doing the right thing by issuing an executive order to temporarily shut down all restaurant dining areas, bars, schools and gyms effective 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 20, and lasting through April 3.

Abbott’s executive order, relating to COVID-19 preparedness and mitigation, was announced during a news conference in Austin on Thursday, March 19, and reflects federal guidance that came out earlier this week.

“In [light] of conference calls the past couple of days with the White House and the governor’s office, I absolutely support the governor’s decision.” Brinkley said. “We must do everything we can to make sure that our health system has the capacity to handle COVID-19.”

The order states every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people, avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts and postpone visiting gyms or massage parlors. However, the use of drive-thru, pickup and delivery options at restaurants is allowed and “highly encouraged” throughout the limited duration of the order.

In accordance with the guidelines from President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Abbott’s order also states that people should not visit nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.

The last item in the order states schools should temporarily close.

This week is spring break for schools across Cooke County. Earlier this week, superintendents countywide agreed to extend spring break through March 27.

During an emergency call meeting of the Gainesville Independent School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday, March 18, Superintendent DesMontes Stewart said he planned to bring staff back to work Monday, March 23, to begin working on implementing at-home learning materials for students. Now all schools are closed though April 3 by order of the governor.

“Online learning platforms and various methods are being put into place to ensure the academic needs of students are met during this extended closure,” states a news release issued by Gainesville ISD following Abbott’s news conference.

“We are entering into uncharted waters and we will continue to actively monitor the COVID-19 pandemic, so that we may plan accordingly,” Stewart said in the Gainesville ISD release. “Meetings are occurring daily to ensure that we stay abreast of the latest developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, our community and our schools.”

Abbott’s order supersedes Brinkley’s health disaster declaration he signed Tuesday, March 17, which ordered all public or social events, excluding schools, attended by 50 people or more be canceled, Brinkley said.

Violating Brinkley’s order carries a fine of up to $1,000 or confinement in jail. Brinkley said the enforcement provisions for both his and Abbott’s orders are the same.

“The governor’s disaster order covers the entire state,” Brinkley said. “I know how difficult the decision was for the governor to make that call. I firmly believe he made the right decision.”

Abbott’s order does not prohibit people from visiting a variety of places, including grocery stores, gas stations, parks and banks, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, according to a news release issued by Abbott’s office. It also does mandate sheltering in place. All critical infrastructure will remain operational, domestic travel will remain unrestricted and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services, the order indicates.

For offices and workplaces that remain open, employees should practice good hygiene and, where feasible, work from home in order to achieve optimum isolation from COVID-19, the order says. “The more that people reduce their public contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained and the sooner this executive order will expire.”

Abbott’s order could be extended after April 3 based on the status of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in Texas and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt announced Thursday that he has declared a public health disaster which will give state and local officials additional tools to respond to COVID-19. The last time a public health disaster was declared was in 1901, officials said.

The governor’s executive order, combined with the public health disaster, provide Texas with enhanced tools and protocols to help state and local partners in their ongoing efforts to respond to, track the progress of and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, according to a news release by Abbott’s office.

“The state of Texas is at a pivotal moment in our response to COVID-19, and it is imperative that we act now on preemptive measures to slow the spread of this virus,” said Abbott in the release. “One of the most effective ways we can do this is by promoting more social distancing and ensuring Texans avoid large group settings such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and schools where the risk of spreading COVID-19 is high.”

Follow the Gainesville Daily Register online for updates throughout the day as the situation surrounding the new coronavirus is developing.

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