GALVESTON

The city council during a virtual meeting Friday discussed establishing a checkpoint at the causeway to keep tourists off the island as leaders searched for ways to ease restrictions such as closing beaches, golf courses and fishing piers to residents stuck at home in effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The city council also extended orders to close the beaches, among other restrictions, to April 30. And city leaders warned that a local virus infection peak likely won’t come until early May.

Discussions about a checkpoint at the causeway arose largely because of Sunday’s closure of the beaches. Many residents have been upset they can’t use the beaches, which is normally a protected right for all Texans.

City leaders were reluctant to close the beaches, but Sunday it became apparent the move was necessary because large numbers of tourists still were arriving to use them, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

The city planned to loosen the restrictions at some point but not yet, as health officials were advising that the peak of COVID-19 infections in Texas is still a month away, Yarbrough said.

“We’re in a four-quarter game and we’re just in the first quarter,” Yarbrough said.

The city’s regulations are in line with orders Gov. Greg Abbott issued this week that extended social distancing recommendations and bar and restaurant restrictions until April 30.

If people can follow social distancing guidelines now, there is a better chance that Galveston could have a summer season, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

Galveston’s $1.2 billion tourism industry relies heavily on summer visitors, and losing all summer tourism would devastate many businesses, he said.

“Let’s sacrifice April and May and let’s make some personal sacrifices, so we can at least have some businesses back this summer,” Maxwell said.

The city council received a record 164 public comments during the meeting. Those were submitted ahead of time electronically because of social distancing rules restricting the public’s access to the meeting.

Of those comments, 117 were in favor of opening beaches and another six were in favor of keeping the beaches closed, according to the city.

Some council members wanted the city to explore putting a checkpoint at the causeway to filter out visitors or people who weren’t coming to Galveston for essential purposes.

If the city could manage tourists at the entry points, the residents might be afforded a little more freedom, District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly said.

ABOUT CHECKPOINTS

The city was investigating how it would go about putting a checkpoint at the causeway, Maxwell said.

But there are staffing issues associated with checkpoints, and it would create another place where first responders might come into contact with an infected person, Maxwell said.

It also would be difficult to enforce, he said.

“There would probably be some degree of an honor system with this,” Maxwell said.

The causeway ultimately is run by the state, and the city would have to get the Texas Department of Transportation’s approval to put up a checkpoint, officials said.

The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry system also is run by the state, and Galveston County runs the San Luis Pass.

Restrictions on businesses, which have been especially hard hits for the entertainment and hospitality industries, have been a serious blow to the island’s economy and the city should already be planning for reopening part of the economy, District 4 Councilman Jason Hardcastle said.

“People are eventually going to start becoming desperate,” Hardcastle said, adding that the city must find a way to balance public health and economic health.

Yarbrough’s focus has been on public health, the mayor said.

“I realize there’s been an economic calamity around us,” Yarbrough said. “Until we get to the peak, my focus is going to be on the public health portion.”

The city also extended restrictions on golf courses, hotels and short-term rentals.

The city council plans to meet weekly to reassess the closure orders.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; keri.heath@galvnews.com or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

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(55) comments

Terry Moore

All for a checkpoint and no different than Hurricane Ike coming on the island. Maybe Galveston residents and mainland workers on the island can get a pass and go through a designated lane and the tourist get backed up proving why they need to come on the island then turned around.

Gary Scoggin

Can we also erect a checkpoint to ensure that no Islanders frivolously come to the Mainland?

Michelle Aycoth

[thumbup]

Randy Chapman

[thumbup] Yes sir. Don't want them Swabbies on the mainland.

Gary Miller

You said it, I agree.

Wayne D Holt

You've said that before, Gary, and people should really consider the implications seriously. Checkpoints can work in both directions. We better hope we don't need to get off the island fast if we start setting up in-bound stops from the mainland.

Charles Douglas

Gary "Knocked" ...that one outta here!!!!! Could not agree more!!!![thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Jimmy Macicek

Exactly. Maybe you should close outbound as well.

David Blumentritt

So you got 117 comments against this abuse of the people's trust and 6, closed the meeting out of "concern" for the public's health to stifle anybody voicing a different opinion and instead of representing the people that voted you in you voted to expand the overreach. I hope the next election the voters of Galveston vote out these autocrats by the same margin.

Susan Fennewald

What we need is the ability to issue tickets for violation of the stay at home order. If every car that was parked at the beach was issued a $100 ticket if they were registered outside of Galveston, then they'd know not to come. Or perhaps, there could be a system where we left a note and informed the home county - and they issued a fine. As long as people know that they'll be fined if they come to the beach and violate the stay-at-home orders.

(Although, I don't really think that a small number of visitors driving down from Houston - where the incidence is no higher than it is here- really matters. It's not like they're going to restaurants or bars. Scattered people at thee beach are not really a contagion storm.)

Susan Fennewald

Closing the beaches is like the run on toilet paper. It doesn't really serve a useful purpose and is just part of the hysteria.

Wayne D Holt

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Gary Miller

Susan> you said it, I agree.

Betty Huff

[thumbup]

David Smith

Last time I looked ... INTERSTATE HIGHWAY 45 runs all the way to milepost 0.. at 59th st..

Miceal O'Laochdha

Florida has had no problem installing a checkpoint on Interstate 10 at the Alabama line and turning back anyone from Louisiana. That started over a week ago so, I guess this can be done, at least by the State, if not the City. It is becoming a brave new world out there...

Jim Forsythe

If you want to follow what Florida is doing, then anyone not from Galveston would self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their trip.

Mar 30, 2020

Florida State Department of Health and State Troopers manning the checkpoint just across the Alabama-Florida state line at the weighing station. The first question drivers and their passengers are asked: "In the past 14 days have you traveled to Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut?" -- If their answer is no -- they can proceed. Those who answer yes -- are instructed to pull over for further screening. We encountered several drivers from Louisiana.

Drivers are pulled over for further screening -- are asked to fill out a form documenting their information -- including driver's license, license plate #, cell phone, the purpose of their trip. They're also told to self-quarantine for 14 days or the duration of their trip, whichever is shorter.

David Schuler

An unnecessary and stupid idea borne of the need to continue to 'do something'.

Gary Miller

David> Bureaucrats are EXPERTS. Experts at doing something even if it's the wrong thing to do.

Wayne D Holt

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

James Lippert

Gary Scoggin, spot on! Small time thinking by some folks in galveston perpetually keep Galveston small time.

Charlotte O'rourke

When public health officials and professionals recommend social distancing and stay at home orders are issued for public health, it is unfathomable to me why anyone would put others - including their own families - at risk.

But some do - as witnessed by allowing beaches to stay open and the congregation of parties on beaches where first responders (who have families) would have to go to issue tickets or warnings.

Surreal.

Jonathan Welch

It seems like it would be easier to have police patrolling the beach and breaking up groups larger than the recommended 10.

Wayne D Holt

You're making too much sense. You'll never make a good politician.

Wayne D Holt

1) Please explain why my being at a 25 ft., 40 ft. or 300 ft. distance from the nearest person at the beach, in salt air and ultraviolet light, is a dire public health threat but five or six feet away from them in a liquor store check-out line is A-OK. We'll wait.

2) And if you say that some people are grouped together in dangerous bunches I will ask why you aren't figuring out ways to stop their dangerous behavior and not my healthy behavior.

3) And if you say it's because enforcement on law breakers is difficult, I will ask why police are not to be used to stop The New Plague. Is there a more immediate enforcement concern than that? If things are as dire as you indicate, this seems to me to be the most important thing they could be doing.

Betty Huff

[thumbup][thumbup]

Elizabeth Beeton

The Council should allow people to access the beaches in the morning and evening. Crowds aren't likely to descend on the city for these brief periods of beach time. If the city has the resources to man checkpoints on the Causeway, it has the resources to monitor the beaches and break up large gatherings. And I don't understand the thinking about shutting down the island now so that we can "have a summer season." Even if Galveston hasn't had a coronovirus case in months, there won't be a summer season if Houston is still in the throes of the virus. We are part of the greater Houston ecosystem.

Charlotte O'rourke

Agree and disagree. Agree, I don’t think we will have a summer season. Disagree on opening beaches.

The city shouldn’t do a checkpoint or have to break up groups which puts first responders at risk when people should be complying with the order.

The beaches are closed. Keep them closed until the orders are lifted.

I love the beach as much as everyone else, but some people aren’t responsible and it impacts everyone who is. A real bummer because surfing and fishing are usually solitary events, but with people out of work and nothing else to do, I can see people coming down and not limiting to the beach.

Bailey Jones

This is a horrible idea, one that inconveniences everyone. Instead, place a banner across the causeway that says "BEACHES CLOSED TO NON-RESIDENTS $1000 FINE", and then enforce it at the beaches. Use the proceeds to support our local businesses.

Gary Miller

Bailey> How about a sign on outbound side of causeway saying $2,000 fee to leave Island.

Bailey Jones

I certainly wouldn't object to Texas City asking me to stay out.

Gary Scoggin

Bailey, we’ll make an exception for you. You are always welcome here. 😀

Gary Scoggin

Island residents? County residents? Texas residents?

The beaches do technically belong to the state after all.

Bailey Jones

UTMB residents.

Gary Scoggin

UTMB Residents are fine. But NO Med students. We have to draw the line somewhere.

Charles Douglas

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Debra Criss

Unfortunate comments Elizabeth. There is no reason to use City resources to allow morning and evening beach access. Those involved in public safety have enough to do without suggesting they do this for locals. Walking on the beach is not an essential activity. Walk in place, walk around the neighborhood, etc. Keep the beaches closed until the science says otherwise.

Wayne D Holt

The science has said otherwise from Day One. There is absolutely NOTHING about being on a beach in sunlight and salt air in small groups that is more of a risk to public health than being in any of the myriad essential businesses, indoors and breathing recirculated air.

This has never been about public health, it has been about the logistics of enforcement for group size. Those are two completely separate issues and the fact that the mayor and city council either fail to recognize that or, more likely, hope we fail to recognize that is the issue.

No, I do not want to walk the beach at daybreak as a bone tossed to me. I want to be out there at high noon enjoying the sun and the enhanced production of Vitamin D that exposure to sunlight affords. I do not think for one moment the City can justify this any more than they could justify closing down STRs and putting hotels in a separate We Trust Them bag until the inconsistency was too obvious to sustain.

*** All you need to know about the lack of reason and balance in our local orders is this: Walking the beach in sunlight and physically going to a house of worship is BAD. Standing in line at a liquor store with a cart full of Crown Royal is ESSENTIAL BUSINESS.

Had enough of this insanity yet?

Charlotte O'rourke

Want, want, want, but a NEED to walk on the beach?

I don’t think so. People are dying, losing their jobs and businesses.

Galveston has 7 million visitors a year. They usually come in groups of 10 or less. Is the request really to open the beach to everyone with 10 or less in a group or even just to local groups?

Really?

Blessed is Galveston to have leadership preventing this fiasco.

Wayne D Holt

I'll decide what I NEED to stay healthy, as I moved here for the benefits of this environment. Again, you have merely reinforced what I said in my response: this is an enforcement issue. Spend your time trying to come up with ways to enforce the guidelines, not punish individuals who are not impacting the public health in any way other than STAYING HEALTHY and not burdening the system.

Until you have connected the dots for me--and apparently a lot of other folks who see the same irrationality--you will not persuade us that prohibiting our enjoying solitary or couples' time in the sun is anything other than a panic-driven obsession with no basis in reality.

Work on coming up with enforcement against those who are the problem, not those of us who are helping the situation by staying healthy.

Charlotte O'rourke

Wayne, what if all of those tourists decide they also NEED the beach to stay healthy? All packed together?

The coronavirus MAY be airborne and not just just droplet transmission. They just don’t know yet. Be safe.

Susan Fennewald

We can't be open for business again until the virus has swept through the island and we've become immune. The goal of "flattening the curve" isn't to prevent the virus from sweeping across the area, its to slow it to a level where the hospitals can handle it.

So the optimum would perhaps be to have a case level just below the capacity of the hospitals to handle it.

If it were just Galveston county I'd say our transmission rate may be too low right now because the number of hospital bed used is steady and the number of people who recover is greater than the number of new cases. But since we have Houston sitting to our north and we share hospitals, its harder to know the numbers. I don't know the number of hospital beds or hospitilalized patients for Houston.

So a very low level of transmission - such as would occur outside at a golf course, fishing pier or beach would not be a problem and might be useful.

Also - I think that the mayor said something about a peak at the end of April (?). That's ridiculous. He needs to make that data public if its true. (I still don't believe it.)

Charlotte O'rourke

Susan, the mayor said the peak was predicted for May.

Susan Fennewald

I want to see the data or the word of a doctor/scientist who is willing to go on the record with that statement.

There are two main scenarios that I see. One is the "flattening the curve" sort of thing - where it just continues until its worked its way through the entire population and the goal is to flatten the curve and keep the hospitalizations under our capacity. In this scenario, I believe that the peak will be about November, and most people will get the virus and become immune, though many infections will be asymptomatic.

The other scenario, is that once the initial phase is over - and we're sort of at the end of it now.- and things have been locked down for a couple of the two week incubation periods, then the number of cases will drop off. We're not immune then, and if a plane load of folks who are infected come to town and throw a party (or if a local infected person throws a party) then it'll all start up again. This is really what China did. They sealed off the Wuhan province and got things under control and let it die out. But now they're worried that people coming in from the US and Europe will start it all over again. Under this scenario, things may improve locally by May - but unless something is done about people moving around from other parts of the country.....

Wayne D Holt

During a recent White House briefing, the CDC's Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the face of America’s response to the coronavirus, was asked by a reporter whether social distancing measures will be imposed until there is a drug or vaccine to treat COVID-19.

“I think if we get to the part of the curve that Dr. Birx showed yesterday when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no new deaths at a period of time. I think it makes sense that you will have to relax social distancing,” Fauci said.

This media darling authority is suggesting (for Covid-19) a standard that has never been imposed for ANY disease in this country's entire history: we're to stay under mandatory lockdown and medical martial law until this disease is eradicated in every hamlet in America.

Not for the Spanish Flu of 1918. Not for polio. Not for tuberculosis, AIDS or the seasonal strains of the flu that kill up to 60,000 a year, conservatively. For THIS one, we must be prepared to live life as the government directs us for as long as it claims an emergency exists.

If this one statement alone does not disqualify him as a reasoned voice who balances our society's many critical needs, nothing will.

Charlotte O'rourke

https://covidactnow.org/us/tx/county/galveston_county

Susan, There are many models. The one above is used by our county.

All that I’ve seen show Texas peaking in May. I didn’t hear city council discuss the second wave which some predict but I may have missed it.

I’m praying that UTMB or someone else comes up with antibody testing and a vaccine.

I’m concerned with the push to open the beach because people congregate at the beach and then use other facilities which produces more exposure. One only needs to look at the pictures before the beach was closed to see it as a major issue.

Raymond Lewis

So...it looks like we will soon have each city in the state erecting their own walls to keep "non" citizens out, as some one on the mainland (tongue in cheek) has suggested. It also appears some states are, perhaps, considering the idea of building walls at their borders. WE may be worst for US than the COVID-19. Let's see now... how many check points between here and Houston?

Chuck DiFalco

[thumbup]

CJ Kirwer

Yes! Close the causeway. No! Don’t ease restrictions in place. Let’s get this behind us before Island businesses are gone for good. In the meantime if Jamaica Beach is still allowing short term rentals put a check point up on the West end of Seawall.

Don Schlessinger

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Susan Fennewald

Charlotte, thank you for your link to the graphs. If you look at the red graph which peaks about May 9 you'll see that it has 5000 hospitalizations at that time. That is (presumably) not the model they feel will apply to us. The more likely model - with social distancing - is the green graph. That's the situation I described as maybe peaking in November. You can see it hasn't really peaked by the end of July (when their graph ends.)

I think that the govt is now hoping for the "Wuhan" model - where the lockdown causes it to die out locally. After that you don't need a lockdown, but you need tests and vigilance in tracking down each new case and preventing it from spreading.

Charlotte O'rourke

Hi Susan, the graph and text shows different peaks at different points in time where the healthcare system becomes overloaded and more deaths occur. Depending upon our local and state government’s actions and our own social distancing behaviors, we see red and different green versions of strict versus poor compliance.

Opening our beaches is an example of a poor social distancing policy and increases the possibility of spread by introducing additional unknown numbers of people and points of contact.

Many spring breakers to other beaches have already been infected with covid 19 and increased the spread within the community.

I’m glad we are not going down the same path believing the sun kills the virus. Hopefully warmer weather will help, but who really knows.

Blessed are we that have strong local leaders and it’s important to remember that they are in direct contact with the health professionals for guidance.

Be safe and thanks for the discussion.

Charlotte O'rourke

The lavender is lockdown.

Doug Sivyer

Can the city or whoever at least change the big highway signs that say Galveston Beaches are Closed until April 5. Today is the 6th and still read the 5th. Does that suggest beaches are now open?

John Nilsson

Agree with Yarbrough on this one, but this is going to go on much longer than predicted. The beach season will definitely be abbreviated this year, most like beginning August 1, if then.

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