On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran extended his local “Stay at Home” Order for all Smith County residents until April 30, 2020. This extension mirrors the time period of Governor Greg Abbott’s GA 14 Order, which began on March 31, and mandated “Stay at Home” restrictions state-wide through the end of April.

The local order is an amendment to Smith County’s “Declaration of Local Disaster Due to Public Health Emergency for Smith County, Texas,” which was originally signed by Judge Moran on March 16, and ratified by the Smith County Commissioners Court on March 17.  At the time that Judge Moran originally issued the local Stay at Home Order on March 27, Smith County had 27 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Presently, Smith County has 79 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 17 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours.

Relationship of Governor Abbott’s Order to the Local Smith County Order

Under Governor Abbott’s March 31 GA 14 Order, “every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.” Governor Abbott’s Order also “superseded any conflicting order issued by local officials in response to the COVID-19 disaster, but only to the extent that such order restricts essential services allowed by this executive order or allows gatherings prohibited by this executive order.”

Judge Moran believes that the local Stay at Home Order for Smith County does not conflict with the Governor’s Order; instead, the local Stay at Home Order simply contains more detailed provisions that will continue to provide consistency and guidance to local businesses and individuals on how they can adhere to the Governor’s directive to “minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household,” until the Governor’s Order terminates April 30.

According to Judge Moran, “Without extending our Local Order, certain local businesses and individuals would have uncertainty about whether their current activities are or are not permitted under the Governor’s Order, which is more general in nature than the local order. To alleviate that uncertainty, and help protect local businesses — especially those operating under the ‘Locked Business’ provision of the Smith County Local Order — I believe it is in the best interest of the community to continue the Local Order through the end of the month. If good cause arises to terminate the Local Order early, or if the Governor sees fit to terminate the state-wide order early, I’ll take immediate steps to truncate the Local Order earlier than anticipated. The hope is that we can get back to business as quickly as possible here in Smith County, but only in a safe and prudent manner. Presently, the Governor’s Order is the restrictor.”

Essential Services

Both the state-wide and local “Stay at Home” orders allow for essential activities, businesses and services to continue. Under the Governor’s Order, “Essential Services” consists of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. Likewise, this Department of Homeland Security guidance was also specifically relied upon in Judge Moran’s Local Order and was incorporated by reference when defining Essential Services. 

In addition, religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship are also specifically captured under the definition of Essential Services, and Judge Moran’s Local Order does nothing to disturb that inclusion. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management at the state level.

Although churches are deemed essential, Smith County officials urge local churches to exercise wisdom in their activities and to voluntarily follow the guidance provided by the CDC and Governor to ensure the health and safety of their parishioners and the community generally.

Non-Essential Businesses: Locked Business Exception & Minimum Basic Operations

Outside of the definition of Essential Services, Judge Moran’s Local Order allows certain non-essential businesses to continue operating as a “locked business.” To qualify, a non-essential business must (i) operate with 10 or fewer employees in any single facility, (ii) enforce Social Distancing Requirements among its employees, and (iii) prohibit public access to the inside of their business premises. This provision — unique to other local orders — has permitted several small, locally-owned businesses to continue to operate in the past few weeks in a safe manner despite being labeled as non-essential. Non-essential retailers can still operate as a “locked business” by doing online sales, with delivery or curbside pickup while following Social Distancing Requirements.

“Over the past week and a half, a number of businesses have expressed gratitude for the “Locked Business” provision in our local order, which was an intentional and reasoned approach to keep our community safe without unnecessarily harming the small ‘mom and pop’ stores. I don’t want that protection for those businesses to go away during the next three weeks, and I want them to know I believe that practice complies with the Governor’s directives at the state level,” said Judge Moran.

Additionally, even non-essential businesses that cannot operate under the “Locked Business” provision of the Local Order are still able to undertake “Minimum Basic Operations” under the local Smith County Order, provided that employees comply with Social Distancing Requirements.  Under the, Local Order, “Minimum Basic Operations” include the necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’ inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions; and the minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.” 

Mandatory Isolation of COVID-19 Patients

Another specific provision of Smith County’s Local Order not contained in the Governor’s Order (but consistent with its edicts) is the requirement that if a person residing in Smith County has either tested positive for COVID-19 or has been tested and is awaiting results (known as a “Person Under Investigation”), then that person, plus all other individuals living at the same address, are ordered to isolate at home. These individuals are not permitted to go to work, school or any other community function until they have been released back to work by a medical doctor, or their test returns with a negative result if they are Person Under Investigation. Services are in place to assist them with outside needs while they are in isolation, if needed.

General Reminders & Questions

Both the Governor’s Order and the Local Order continue to emphasize the need to adhere to the CDC’s prescribed Social Distancing Requirements, which includes maintaining at least six feet of physical distancing from other individuals, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow–not hands), regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, and not shaking hands.

For additional information regarding Judge Moran’s “Stay at Home” Order, please visit www.smith-county.com and click the red banner at the top of the page. After reading the order, if any member of the public has specific questions regarding the order, they are asked to email them to covid19@smith-county.com.