UPDATED: County judge issues disaster declaration; MOH Week, other events canceled in light of COVID-19

A crowd gathers on the FM 1306 bridge over U.S. 35 to welcome Medal of Honor recipients to last year’s Medal of Honor Week on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. A city declaration forced organizers to postpone, or possibly cancel, this year’s event.

FULL REPORT 5:50 p.m.:

As area officials continue to keep the new coronavirus at bay, cancellations are inevitable.

Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley signed a health disaster declaration Tuesday, March 17, ordering that all public or social events, excluding schools, attended by 50 people or more be canceled. That includes planned events such as church services, weddings, funerals and the common seating areas of restaurants. However, it does not include places such as grocery and convenience stores, a news release issued by the county states.

“This is a decision that I do not take lightly,” Brinkley said in the release. “However, given the ever-changing nature of the situation and the potential impact on our local health system, it is the right decision for our residents.”

Penalty for violation of an emergency order may be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or confinement in jail for up to 180 days.

It is also recommended that those hosting an event ensure appropriate precautions be taken, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to reduce contact and the possible spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to the declaration.

City Manager Barry Sullivan said Monday evening, March 16, that the city will follow CDC recommendations and cancel special events and gatherings with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks.

Cancellations include events with 50 or more people at the Gainesville Civic Center, 311 S. Weaver St., youth baseball and softball games and a number of golf tournaments — such as the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce’s fundraiser— at the Gainesville Municipal Golf Course, 2240 Weber Drive, Sullivan said.

One of the biggest events canceled is next month’s Medal of Honor Host City Program.

“It is with deep regret that we are canceling/postponing this year’s Medal of Honor Host City Program event,” a message posted to the nonprofit’s website states. “Due to the [new] coronavirus, our city has limited group gatherings to 50 or less people for the next eight weeks. Our guest list alone exceeds that in every portion of our event, therefore we are going to follow this guidance and cancel the event scheduled for April 15-19, 2020.”

Medal of Honor Host City Program Board President Tommy Moore said the nonprofit has been closely monitoring COVID-19 for the past week.

COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. As of press time Tuesday, there were 4,226

reported cases of COVID-19 nationwide and 75 reported deaths, according to the CDC.

In Texas, there were 64 reported cases of the new coronavirus as of press time and one death, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. There were no reported cases in Cooke County as of press time.

“We made a commitment to make a decision to move forward or cancel by April 6,” Moore said. “We had 15 recipients confirmed for this year. They are all disappointed in our cancellation; however, they understand our decision.”

Moore said the board needs to meet to discuss if the event will be rescheduled for a later date or canceled altogether this year.

“We just need to decide what is best for the program and our guests,” Moore said.

The Medal of Honor Host City Program was established in 2001 and brings recipients of the U.S. military’s highest award to town to meet with the community through a series of events each year. Gainesville is the nation’s only Medal of Honor Host City.

ORIGINAL 1:59 p.m.:

Cooke County Judge Jason Brinkley has signed a disaster declaration, today, Tuesday, March 17, which is effective immediately.

According to the disaster declaration, Cooke County is ordering that all public or social events, excluding schools, attended by 50 people or more be cancelled.

It is also recommended that those hosting any event ensure appropriate precautions be taken, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to reduce contact and the possible spread of COVID-19 virus.

The declaration also says that the state of disaster shall continue for a period of not more than seven days from today's date unless the same is continued by consent of the Cooke County Commissioners' Court.

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