The shelter-in-place order Galveston County leaders and the mayors of every city in the county issued Monday caused a lot of confusion among people.
Residents are wondering what they can do and where they can go without violating the order. Business owners are wondering whether they can fit themselves into one of the many categories of commercial activity exempted from restrictions spelled out in the order.
Confusion and questions were inevitable.
There’s no way the government can issue an order specific enough to cover every scenario we the people might encounter in the course of a day or a week, except with a blanket ban on anybody going anywhere for any reason.
Clearly, unless and until the government can manage to back a truck up to each of our front doors and unload food and everything else people need, we’re all going to have be out and about to some extent.
The point of the order was to make it as clear as possible that none of us should be out and about any more than necessary. And the truth is the exemptions are so broadly written that only a few specific businesses were ordered to close.
That was by design, County Judge Mark Henry said Monday as the order was being announced.
“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.
Whether Henry was right in that we might never know, but it’s understandable that neither he nor for other local leaders wanted to make it any harder than necessary for people to continue making a living.
The first step in getting clarity about the order is to read it. You can do that at galvnews.com and on Page C3 of today’s edition.
Even reading the order line by line might not answer all questions, however.
For example, the order exempts plumbers, electricians and exterminators specifically. But what about air-conditioning repairers and people who can fix a critical piece of equipment such as a home freezer that’s packed full of emergency food? The order exempts others “who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences and Essential Businesses.”
So, just about anybody who provides services that might seem essential in a given set of circumstances could claim exemption under the order.
The simple truth is, there’s only so much any government can do to keep individual people safe and healthy.
The order allows people to do everything that reasonably must be done to live our lives, including to “exercise fundamental Constitutional rights.”
In other words, it’s up to us as good citizens to comply with the order as best we can in the reality of our own lives and work circumstances.
That’s the way it should be in a nation of free people.
What health officials are advising and what the government is trying to make clear is this: It’s in the best interest of the community, and in our own individual best interest, to limit our movement and contact with each other as much as possible during this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, a few hours after that order went in to effect, rather than attempting to parse the order for loopholes and personal exemptions or reading it as a blanket prohibition against doing anything, anywhere, we should be thinking in terms of what’s truly essential and necessary.
If you have to be out and about and aren’t ill, take care, stay 6 feet from others. If you don’t have to be out, stay home.
Either way, wash your hands a lot.
• Michael A. Smith