GALVESTON

County Judge Mark Henry and the county’s 13 mayors came to an agreement Monday: all county residents would be told to stay at home.

The county will institute a stay-at-home order at 11:59 p.m Tuesday, officials announced Monday evening. The order will remain in effect until April 3. The order says nothing about how the government would enforce the provisions, however.

The order was signed by Henry, Galveston County Local Health Authority Philip Keiser and the mayors of every city in Galveston County. The leaders agreed to the order during a telephone conference Henry arranged Monday afternoon.

The order is meant to encourage county residents to limit their travel during a phase of the coronavirus pandemic when some health officials are predicting a soaring number of new cases, officials said.

Henry agreed to issue the order because it was recommended by the health authority, he said on Monday evening.

But while Henry signed and issued the order, he cast doubts about the forcefulness of the order.

“The local health authority asked that I do it and I did it in such a way that there are so many exceptions, most people will be excepted,” he said.

Under the county’s order, residents may only leave their homes to seek medical care, pick up essential items such as food — for either humans or pets — or household supplies, participate in solitary outdoor recreational activities or to work at an essential business.

Essential businesses include banks and retailers such as grocery stores, gas stations and convenience stores, in addition to healthcare providers, news organizations, restaurants providing takeout, delivery and drive-through services.

Essential infrastructure providers, such as local governments, trash collection and telecommunication systems providers also can remain on the job. Charitable organizations that provide help to those in need and child care providers also are exempted from the order.

Under the order, a manufacturing business that retools its operation to build ventilators can apply to become an essential business.

The order waives tolls at the San Luis Pass bridge at the West End of Galveston Island.

Galveston County’s order closely mirrors the one issued by Dallas County on Sunday afternoon.

The local order came down a little more than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott declined to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order because of the coronavirus and deferred to local cities and counties to make their own decisions about shutdowns.

Other county leaders talked more forcefully about the seriousness of the order.

“We all agree that the county is at a tipping point,” Santa Fe Mayor Jason Tabor. “If we don’t do something now, the cases of COVID-19 will skyrocket.”

Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough called the order “serious stuff.”

“If you don’t have a reason to be outside your house, don’t go,” Yarbrough said.

The county order applies everywhere. Galveston or other cities could implement additional orders on top of the county’s rule, officials said.

Galveston is considering rules that would order short-term rental guests to leave the island, that would shut down game rooms and that would close fishing piers, Yarbrough said.

City leaders had discussed restricting access across the Galveston causeway, but on Monday didn’t anticipate such an order being drafted, Yarbrough said.

The agreement is one of the first examples of county leaders acting jointly in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.

At times over the past week, Henry deferred to the judgment of other local leaders — and the recommendations of the Galveston County Health District — to decide on what types of community precautions to take from the virus.

The result has been a patchwork of rules.

While Galveston and the mainland city of La Marque ordered a shutdown of bars and dining areas on March 17, other parts of the county didn’t go that far until forced to by an executive order by Abbott that went into effect on March 21.

The unified order was meant be an attempt to form “a single voice” for county residents. Yarbrough said he would rather be criticized for taking measures that were too strong than for not taking the crisis seriously enough.

Henry said he hoped the unified order would convince people who can stay inside during the crisis to do so.

The order does not include any language about enforcement or penalties.

“We’re hoping for voluntary compliance, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

As of Monday, there were 18 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Galveston County, according to the health district.

Reporter Keri Heath contributed to this report.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(17) comments

Robert Braeking

This situation has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. According to the Department of State Health Services there are only 15 active cases of COVID-19 in Galveston County. Where are those 15 cases and are they quarantined? Otherwise the rest of us need to use due diligence in our hygiene and go about our business.

Ray Taft

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Wayne D Holt

For those keeping score at home, the percentage that show positive for the virus so far in this county is 0.000059801%. The 2003-2004 US flu season had 49,000 deaths attributed to it and I don't recall tanks rolling through the streets to enforce medical martial law.

Take a look a the meager facts offered on the infected ones in the county and they are either just back from traveling internationally or domestically, or have been around someone like that. My understanding is they are in self-quarantine at home and don't have complications.

For this we are gutting our local economy? There are hotspots on both coasts where the incidence is much higher. Take stronger measures there, not in a part of the country that has not seen this spike.

Keep social distancing, use heightened sanity care and get out in God's sunlight and salt air. That is the best prescription for getting past this medical emergency.

Randy Chapman

Your thought process is part of the issue. Those are only confirmed cases. Many, many more are harboring the virus. In an attempt to not overwhelm the medical system, the rate of new infections has to be slowed. Will we all eventually get this? Probably. But make the virus work harder to infect us all. At this point, no one knows the actual number infected, and this has been stated over and over.

Robert Braeking

A few minutes of research revealed that County Judge Henry and local mayors are going way beyond and above the cited Governor's executive orders with this one. Elections have consequences. So do ignorant decisions.

Wayne D Holt

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Wayne D Holt

It appears to me Judge Henry is doing what he has to do to withstand the withering criticism coming from folks who apparently believe throwing thousands out of work is preferable to common sense solutions.

He has also laid it squarely at the feet of local mayors to take the initiative and use objective reality and not apocalyptic pronouncements to guide us. UTMB is doing exactly what should be done: getting ready in as many ways as possible for those who may come through the doors. But to City government, nonsensical "solutions" like banning STR visits while allowing hotel stays is considered state-of-the-art advice. Telling people to stay indoors (where this virus does best in enclosed spaces with recirculating air) rather than getting outside, keeping social distancing and staying mentally upbeat doesn't make sense at all.

As someone remarked, we could completely wipe out the common cold...if we didn't mind being kept in solitary confinement for the rest of our lives.

Walter Dannenmaier

Wayne, the order will work wonders for our small businesses, that's for sure. We will wonder where they went when this is over.

Walter Dannenmaier

Closing the Causeway, San Luis Pass and the ferry to non-essential traffic would seem to protect us better, and WE HAVE DONE IT TWICE IN THIS CENTURY. But sure, lock us all up! It will certainly be more convenient for the government.

Randy Chapman

Are you seriously still saying this? LOL!

Walter Dannenmaier

Yes! I am! it's either an emergency and we are all at risk of infection or not. Do you think that national, state, or county borders have magical powers to limit the spread of infection that are lacking at the edge of the city?

James Lippert

Many thanks to Galveston County Judge Mark Henry for your leadership and wisdom. Harris county can keep their County Judge and all her foolishness.

Wayne D Holt

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Mary Gillespie

Where can I find a copy of the order? I need to examine the list of exceptions to see if charitable organizations are exempt.

Lesley Sommer

The only reason a charity would be exempt is if it is performing an essential function as outlined in the declaration.

Bailey Jones

Shelter in place orders are following these guidelines with respect to "critical jobs".

https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf

johnferguson Staff
John Wayne Ferguson

There is a copy of the order attached to this article. In you're reading on a desktop, it's right underneath the headline

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