Denton County is issuing a stay-at-home order to take effect 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, judge Andy Eads announced in a joint news conference today.
Eads amended the county disaster declaration in response to a growing number of COVID-19 cases, which totaled 36 Tuesday morning. The amended order advises residents to stay home unless they are getting or delivering supplies, seeking medical attention for themselves or family members, or, for essential employees, attending work. The order, which lasts for seven days unless extended by the Denton County Commissioners Court, requires nonessential businesses to allow employees to work remotely or close temporarily effective midnight March 25. Enforcement measures could include up to a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail, but Director of Emergency Services Jody Gonzalez said officials are “looking for compliance first” for the new order.
“We are taking this step together as the number of total cases for COVID-19 continues to rise across Denton County,” Eads said. “Sometimes, you have to decide between two bad choices, and I am erring on the side of saving lives. It is incumbent upon all of us to stay at home and limit our interactions with individuals now.”
Essential businesses outlined in the order include health care operations and residential care, local government functions providing health, safety and welfare to the public, school personnel essential for the operation of distance-learning and maintenance, public works critical to infrastructure, essential retail outlets, and facilities that provide care to disadvantaged populations.
Elective medical and dental procedures are also prohibited. Residents are permitted to engage in solitary outdoor activities as long as they practice social distancing.
Eads said the mandate follows the staggered approach the county has taken in response to the escalating pandemic, including amendments over the last several weeks which have ordered the closure of bars, gyms, theaters, salons and other personal care businesses and schools, restricted dine-in service at restaurants and limited the number of public gatherings.
“We have essentially been asking everyone to stay at home from the very beginning, which is why we are calling this a stay-at-home order,” Eads said. “The quicker we properly keep our distance, the quicker kids can return to school and our lives and businesses can continue.”
Mayor Chris Watts encouraged businesses to read the language of the order for guidance on what is considered essential and encouraged employees who will continue to work in-person at these businesses to practice social distancing measures of remaining at least 6 feet apart.
Eads said limiting the spread will also help ease the burden on local hospitals from being overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases.
County officials said they are working with the state and private labs to expand COVID-19 testing, and plan to test several individuals in the next few hours and over the coming days.
Eads acknowledged the strain the order will place on residents and businesses but emphasized the measures enacted with the order are necessary to save the lives of those most vulnerable to the virus.
“Community spread is here in Denton County, for how long we simply do not know,” Eads said. “Only by following these common-sense measures will we reduce the potential for infection.”
The full order is available here.
Amber Gaudet can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.