On Tuesday, Houston and Harris County officials announced that a “Stay Home-Work Safe” order would go into effect at midnight and continue until April 3.
The order comes after 27 confirmed cases of coronavirus virus in Harris County and after local Med center leaders called for stricter social distancing measures from county officials.
“This means that all of us should stay home, unless our jobs are essential for the health and safety of our community,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said. “Those of us whose jobs are essential to health and safety must do everything we can to maintain six feet from one another… if your work is essential you must work safe. Hence, stay home-work safe.”
Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that they were refraining from the term “shelter-in-place” because those words were typically reserved for hurricanes, plant explosions, and active shooters.
Harris County joins several other counties and cities in Texas that have issued similar stay-at-home orders, including Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso.
Under the order, people can still leave the house to go on a walk and parks will remain open, but they are asked to maintain a six-foot distance in public. Residents are also free to leave home for critical errands and gas stations and grocery stores will stay open. The stay-at-home orders issued by other localities have similar conditions.
Jobs considered “essential” and exempted from stay-at-home orders are those that are part of the 16 critical sectors listed by the federal government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Included on the list are healthcare, energy, and transportation systems.
Violating the order can carry a fine or up to 180 days in jail, although officials say they hope people will comply voluntarily and law enforcement will have some discretion. “We’re going to ask people when we think they’re doing something that’s in violation of this order, we’re going to ask people to comply, and we believe that by using some compassion and common courtesy, we’ll be able to be just fine,” said Houston Police chief Art Acevedo.
Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom said that Hidalgo made the right call and that the order had the unanimous support of the CEOs of the Texas Medical Center.
Strict social distancing measures like those ordered by Harris County on Tuesday are critical for states seeking to “flatten the curve,” or curb the number of new cases and deaths by attacking the spread of the virus.
Texas has seen 410 confirmed cases and 9 deaths, according to the state’s health agency.
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