On Monday, March 23, 2020, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran made clear that—at this time—he has no intention presently to sign a generalized “shelter in place” order for Smith County that would further restrict the activities of Smith County citizens and businesses as a result of COVID-19 beyond the restrictions imposed at the state level by the Governor of Texas.
On Friday, March 13, Governor Greg Abbott declared a State of Disaster for all Counties in Texas. He followed that declaration up with his first Executive Order on Thursday, March 19, relating to COVID-19 preparedness and mitigation, which established certain limitations on activities of daily living including the prohibition of social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people and curtailing the operations of certain businesses.
On Sunday, March 22, Abbott signed an additional Executive Order relating to hospital capacity during the COVID-19 disaster, which imposed certain limitations on health care professionals and licensed health care facilities. In his press conference announcing this second Executive Order, the Governor noted that he did not intend to impose a state-wide “shelter in place” order, but would leave that decision to local authorities.
According to Judge Moran, “The most effective manner of combating the spread of COVID-19 within our community has been and remains the personal choices of each individual and business to utilize strict sanitary habits, keep a safe distance from others, self-isolate when becoming symptomatic, and operationalize business practices that are consistent with reducing the spread of COVID-19. No amount of government regulation—whether on the local, state or national level, can serve as an adequate substitute for the personal choices of our citizens. And, government use all due restraint before impairing the personal freedoms of those it governs—especially during a time of crisis.”
Judge Moran acknowledged that the spread of COVID-19 is likely going to increase in the community in the coming weeks, and that additional local regulatory orders may be necessary at the county level, but insisted that such orders coming from his office, if necessary, would be narrowly tailored and would utilize the least restrictive means possible to protect citizens.
“A generalized shelter in place order for Smith County would be a decision of last resort here locally, and one that I would only consider at the request of the Local Health Authority, which has not happened to date,” Judge Moran said.