By Chris Edwards
With the World Health Organization proclaiming it a pandemic and President Donald Trump declaring a national state of emergency, the worries continue to grow over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19.)
On Monday, Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette issued an emergency order for all events with greater than 50 people, sponsored or permitted by the county, to cease immediately for a duration of 30 days, and “may be extended as needed.”
The order also states that nursing homes and senior living centers should limit visitation within their facilities.
One area where the coronavirus impact has hit hard, nationwide, has been with the cancellation and/or postponement of festivals. Both the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and Austin’s South by Southwest have been cancelled. The upcoming Dogwood Festival, which was set to begin this weekend with the Festival of the Arts at Heritage Village, followed by Western Weekend and Queen’s Weekend, for the two succeeding weekends, was postponed by the festival’s operating directors, who met on Monday to make the decision.
Although the directors have stressed that the festival is being postponed, with dates to be made public later, this is only the second time in the festival’s 77-year history that a rescheduling or cancellation has been made. It was cancelled from 1942 through 45 due to American involvement in World War II.
Blanchette, who recently hosted a workshop on the virus, along with Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe, said the county is receiving updates on a daily basis from Austin on the matter.
There are no reported cases of the coronavirus in Tyler County. At this time, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 69 reported cases in Texas and 4,490 confirmed cases, nationwide. There have been 87 deaths reported across the country.
Last week Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to update the public on the status of the virus and what the state is doing to protect the health of the public.
Abbott declared a State of Disaster in all of Texas’s 254 counties and said that “no matter how this situation unfolds, Texas will be ready.”
Abbott said that various state agencies are working hand-in-hand to monitor the situation, and that Texas Public Health Labs now have the capacity to test more than 270 people per day.
At the municipal level, Woodville, Chester and Colmesneil mayors Paula Jones, Floyd Petri and Don Baird, respectively, issued emergency orders for their respective cities. The order issued by Jones follows closely with the county’s order, and Petri’s refers to the state and county efforts to contain the virus, and states penalties for those who violate the declaration in Chester.
As of Monday, all school districts in the county announced class cancellations. A statement from Woodville ISD notes a judicial decree allowing it to “put a flexible education program in place to be used from home.” Colmesneil ISD reported that it would re-evaluate its situation on April 3, and Spurger ISD made a statement that it would put a flexible schedule in place on Monday, March 23, which would operate until April 3.
Last week, Texas Education Agency commissioner Mike Morath held a conference call with superintendents across the state to address the matter. Morath recommended a decision-making model provided by the CDC, which suggests that any events including 50 or more people be cancelled or postponed.
In a letter from WISD Superintendent Lisa Meysembourg, it is noted that all non-essential travel and field trips have also been cancelled until further notice, and all extra-curricular activities under the University Interscholastic League guidance are suspended for at least two weeks, beginning Monday.
Morath told educators and lawmakers to be prepared for possible long-term school district closures, potentially through the end of the academic term where incidents of the virus have been confirmed.
In another statement from TEA, made public on Monday, the agency stated that the STAAR testing requirements have been waived after an announcement from Abbott, who also said he would ask the federal government to waive federal standardized testing requirements for this school year.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has suspended all volunteer visitation to its facilities, according to TDCJ official Rene Hinojosa, who issued a memo last Thursday.
At the Tyler County Jail, Sheriff Bryan Weatherford issued a statement on Saturday suspending visitation until further notice. “Visitation will resume once the suspension is terminated by the Governor’s office or the statewide disaster declaration is lifted,” Weatherford said. Attorneys, as well as probation and parole officers will still be allowed in the jail to see their clients but will be screened before entering.
Weatherford said that during the weekend, an individual made a false report on social media that they tested positive for COVID-19 at Tyler County Hospital, an incident he said was “promptly investigated by the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office and delivered to the District Attorney’s office,” resulting in a Class A Misdemeanor charge of filing a False Alarm/False Report.
Although the above information is current at press time, with regard to closures, please keep abreast of any new developments via the Booster Facebook page and the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page.