Fort Bend County officials took another step to combat the spread of COVID-19 on Tuesday afternoon as County Judge KP George issued a “stay-at-home to save lives” order for all incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.
“This is the only way we can flatten the curve and give our healthcare facilities the necessary resources they need to save the vulnerable ones,” George said.
The order will go into effect Wednesday and run through the end of the day April 3. Businesses in “essential industries” will be allowed to continue operating as long as workers utilize the proper social distancing guidelines of 6 feet separation. Restaurants can remain open as long as they are restricted to carryout, drive-through and delivery services, according to the order.
Residents can also get their necessary healthcare and go to the grocery store. Faith institutions are now permitted to hold services only if it is by live-streaming teleconferences or other virtual means. County parks will remain open for exercise, but playgrounds and equipment will be closed for the duration of the order.
“I did not make this decision lightly, but there is no choice that I have but to go and do this,” George said. “Our healthcare system will be overwhelmed if we do not take drastic action.”
Since Fort Bend County officials announced the Houston area’s first positive test for COVID-19 on March 4, the number of cases in the region has risen considerably. As of Tuesday, Fort Bend County Health & Human Services Director Jacquelyn Johnson-Minter said there were 46 COVID-19 cases in the county.
There were more than 200 cases in the Houston area as of Tuesday, including 55 within the Houston city limits. George’s order succeeded that of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who issued a joint stay-at-home order Tuesday morning.
“It is clear from experiences around the world and in our own country that we have to be consistently vigilant and flexible in our response to COVID-19 in order to protect our most vulnerable residents,” Johnson-Minter said during a Tuesday news conference. “Evidence has shown that certain measures taken at the right time can minimize the impact, protect our healthcare system and speed the return of health to our communities and economies.”
According to the World Health Organization, which earlier this month declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, there have been more than 375,000 confirmed cases in 195 different countries, including more than 42,000 in the U.S. The disease has led to more than 16,300 deaths worldwide.
Officials acknowledged the financial stress the order could put on businesses around Fort Bend County. However, they said the short-term loss will eventually give way to a brighter future if all precautions are followed.
“This is a defining moment in our county’s history,” George said. “We are making a choice to save our most vulnerable. And we cannot do it alone. We need your help. Together, we will prevail.”
Below is a complete list of essential businesses that can continue to operate, per George’s order, which can be viewed at fortbendcountytx.gov.
Essential Healthcare Operations
Healthcare operations, including hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers, mental health providers, substance abuse service providers, blood banks, medical research, laboratory services, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services. Home-based and residential-based care for seniors, adults, or children are also considered healthcare operations. Healthcare operations also include veterinary care and all health and welfare services provided to animals. This exemption shall be viewed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of healthcare.
Essential Government Functions
All services provided by local governments and municipalities located in Harris County needed to ensure their continuing operation to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public, including law enforcement, jail operations and other services. Further, nothing in this Order shall prohibit any individual from performing “Essential Government Functions”. All Essential Government Functions shall be performed in compliance with social distancing requirements of six feet to the extent possible.
Essential Critical Infrastructure
Work necessary to the operations and maintenance of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), provided that they carry out those services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements of six feet to the extent possible. Essential Businesses providing essential infrastructure should implement screening precautions to protect employees and all activities shall be performed in compliance with social distancing guidelines.
Food producers and service providers, including grocery stores, warehouse stores, furniture suppliers, big box stores, bodegas, liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores, farmers’ markets that sell food products and household staples. Food cultivation, including farming, ranching, fishing, and livestock. Food production, including the production of canned goods, bottled beverages and other grocery items. Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences. Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive-thru or carry-out. Schools and other entities that typically provide free services to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only. The restriction of delivery or carry-out does not apply to cafes and restaurants located within hospital and medical facilities. Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers. Gas stations, auto supply, auto and bicycle repair, hardware stores, and related facilities. Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home.
Providers of Basic Necessities to Economically Disadvantaged Populations
Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.
Essential Services Necessary to Maintain Essential Operations of Residences or Other Essential Businesses
Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, yard and maintenance crews, housekeepers, janitorial staff, pool cleaners and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences and Essential Businesses. Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities. Businesses that supply other Essential Businesses with support or utilities needed to operate. Caregivers and helpers who provide services to seniors and disabled individuals. Trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal, mail and shipping services, building cleaning, maintenance and security, warehouse/distribution and fulfillment, storage for essential businesses, funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries.
Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services.
Childcare facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this Order to work as permitted.