Copperas Cove city council extends disaster declaration through April 30
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Copperas Cove City Council approved the extension of the city’s declaration of local disaster though April 30 during an emergency city council meeting held Friday at noon.
Council members met at the Technology Center, while the public tuned in through Zoom, by phone or through Facebook Live.
Since the council last met, the city of Copperas Cove announced its second positive case of COVID-19 on April 2, a male in his 70s who is currently hospitalized in an area hospital.
The total number of cases in the state had risen to 5,330, with 90 deaths, as of Friday afternoon.
The decision to extend the declaration came after Gov. Greg Abbott issued executive order GA-14 on Thursday, which defined what businesses are considered essential and encouraged Texas residents to follow CDC guidelines of social distancing and avoiding social gatherings of more than 10, and to minimize where people gather unless where necessary to provide or obtain essential services.
Per the Governor’s Executive Order GA 14, ‘Essential services’ consists of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). TDEM shall maintain an online list of essential services, as specified in this executive order and in any approved additions. Requests for additions should be directed to TDEM at EssentialServices@tdem.texas.gov or by visiting www.tdem.texas.gov/essentialservices.”
The governor provided guidance for religious services yesterday, according to City Manager Ryan Haverlah. Churches should conduct their services remotely, either by phone or video conference. If that is not possible, social distancing should occur, with the top recommendation being that services be conducted via drive-in. Smaller churches can hold services for 10 or fewer people, if the previous recommendations are not possible.
The reason for the council to extend the disaster declaration is to ensure that there is continuity and consistency with the declaration, which will help when the city requests reimbursement from state and federal funding sources to respond to the disaster.
“There is a potential argument that because the governor has issued a disaster declaration for the entire state that we could fall under that declaration for funding reimbursement,” Haverlah said. “However, it becomes much more difficult in working with the state and federal agencies to demonstrate that locally, we had a disaster, and we were responding to that disaster versus just working under the governor’s declaration.”
Another reason for the declaration is to help streamline the response from law enforcement.
“The governor has specifically declared that all law enforcement officials within the state of Texas are authorized to enforce the governor’s executive order,” Haverlah said. “From an enforcement standpoint, that means our law enforcement officers are expected to enforce that order.”
Mayor Bradi Diaz agreed that it is important to have a disaster declaration at the local level.
“If we do not have an emergency declaration at the local level, any reimbursement for expenses, and we are having expenses as a part of this emergency, then the likelihood of being reimbursed on the federal level makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get reimbursement back for everything that the city is doing to protect our citizens, so we have to have a declaration at the local level,” Diaz said. “And in emergency management, they tell you to protect your citizens at the local level first. So, some would say why would we even need to do it because the governor has taken care of it, but it’s the local governmental body’s responsibility first to care of their citizens, so we have to have a declaration at the local level even though the governor has declared one statewide.”
During the public comment portion, several citizens sent in written comments or responded through Zoom to express their support for a shelter in place order, including Phillip Kerzee. Kerzee commented that he worked with the Chemical Corps and had experience with biologicals.
“This type of virus is, it’s special. It reacts stronger than others by sticking to the surfaces,” Kerzee said. “Now when you go out, you touch an item, whether it’s cardboard, paper or what, if it’s there, it’s going to transfer on to you. Yes, you could wash your hands and everything but think about all of the items you’re going to touch in between where you’re at and coming home and washing your hands. That’s just spreading it and that’s what the virus wants to to, it wants to spread. So, by keeping people home, asking people to stay home is one thing. Giving them a little bit of stronger order is another.”
Haverlah clarified that although the governor’s executive order was not called a shelter in place order, the language of the order reads similarly to other counties’ shelter in place orders.
“The governor was very specific in stating he did not believe it was a shelter in place ordinance because he utilized a very specific definition of shelter in place, which means wherever you are at, that’s where you stay and you don’t move until that order is lifted, and so that’s why he does not characterize it as a shelter in place order,” Haverlah said.
The governor’s order specifically suspended Chapter 418.108 of the Texas Government Code which allows cities and counties to issue disaster declarations as long as it doesn’t contradict the governor’s executive order GA 14, Haverlah said.
“Essentially, the entire state of Texas is under a very similar shelter in place type directive, the governor just doesn’t call it that,” Haverlah added.
Council member Fred Chavez said that the declaration, which mirrors the governor’s order, “does put more teeth, more force in the request that citizens stay home and only go out for essential service.”
Dianne Yoho Campbell said that ideally, every citizen would do the right thing in regards to following guidelines for the prevention of the spread of the virus.
“You cannot pass a law to make people do these things,” Campbell said. “It’s not enforceable. We have to choose to do this, and it’s our responsibility to do that.”
She added that COVID-19 is killing people and making people sick but its effects are also extending beyond the health of citizens.
She said that GA 14 is considered law.
“It doesn’t matter how this council votes,” Campbell said. “That is the law of the land. We have to abide by that or there are consequences for that.”
It is also the government’s responsibility to look at the total picture, Campbell said.
“The total picture includes the economic consequences of these chooses, and so it’s not a slippery slope, this is an ice-covered mountain that we’re talking about,” Campbell added. “The second and third order consequences could be much greater than this. I will support GA 14, but I want to go on record as saying we have to be careful, we have to communicate with our governor, with our council members, with our state legislators and express our concern about the second and third order effect that is going to coming into play, and it’s coming into play today in the lives of many of our citizens.”
Campbell said that several publications, like Bloomberg, had shared that the country is on the brink of an economic collapse as the period of self-quarantining and closure of businesses to avoid the spread of the virus gets extended more and more.
“I want America to be free, and I want my children and my grandchildren to know the America that I know, and so I implore everyone to follow these guidelines. I implore you to do that, but we have to be very careful in government that we don’t- we’re crossing a line already that we can’t continue to cross it.”
Chavez replied with agreement to a point.
“I agree with many of the things that Councilwoman Campbell has said, however when bullets are flying and people are dying, I’m not thinking about the economy,” Chavez said. “Right now is the time to think about what is our immediate threat in front of us. When that threat ebbs, when that threat subsides, then we take on what’s next.”
He urged citizens to take personal responsibility in following the guidelines, like Campbell said to.
Council member Marc Payne said he wasn’t trying to force citizens to do things, but rather offer direction and a plan.
“This way, they have a direction to go instead of going in all different directions,” Payne said.
Council member Dan Yancey questioned the difference between the governor’s executive order GA08, which the last disaster declaration was mirroring, and GA14, which the city’s declaration is now mirroring.
“It’s more precise, it’s more particular than GA 08,” Diaz responded.
The council voted unanimously to approve the extension of the disaster declaration through April 30, which is in line with both the President’s timeline and the Governor’s timeline.