This story has been updated.
Bexar County is now under a mandatory “Stay Home, Work Safe” order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff announced Monday. The County’s declaration, which mirrors the City’s, applies to San Antonio and all other municipalities within its boundaries.
The order is effective at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24. The City declaration can be found here. The County’s is here. The order is expected to be extended through April 9, pending City Council and Bexar County Commissioner Court approval.
“The best way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus is through strict social distancing,” Nirenberg said during the press briefing. “Staying at home and social distancing will save lives and will enable San Antonio to get through this health emergency as quickly as possible. This is not a time for panic. It is a time for focus and commitment to protect the wellbeing of our neighbors.”
“There is no food shortage,” he added. “Grocery store shelves are empty at times because of unnecessary hoarding. Stop.”
Grocery stores and other essential businesses and public services will remain open, according to a City spokeswoman, but residents are expected to stay home unless they work at or are traveling to and from such establishments.
Restaurants and other food retailers can continue to offer delivery and drive-through services.
According to the order, exempted activities are anything related to maintaining the health and safety of yourself or a family member, including pets. Those activities include traveling to obtain supplies to live and work at home, and visiting a health care professional. Activities in outdoor spaces are still permitted as long as individuals remain six feet away from others and limit gatherings to 10 people.
Exempted businesses include health care services, including home-based care for seniors, government functions, education and research, and infrastructure maintenance such as commercial and residential construction, airport operations, water, sewer, gas, oil refining, roads, and public transportation. Grocery and retail stores that sell household staples, including gas stations, also are exempt.
Other exempt industries include hotels, professional services such as attorneys and accountants, news media, financial institutions, child care services, and funeral services.
“If somebody’s going from one place to another they should be going home unless they’re going to an essential service,” Nirenberg said. “This is not complicated, people. Stay home. Save lives. That’s all we want.”
Asked if law enforcement officers will stop people and verify where they are going, Nirenberg said he doubts it will come to that.
“We’re going to rely on some basic common sense and compassion from our neighbors,” he said. “I don’t think we have to interrogate somebody who’s out on the streets, as long as they’re going home. … It’s very simple for us to get through this crisis globally and save some lives in the process if everybody is aware that the precaution is necessary to save ourselves and our family members.”
Prior to Monday evening’s press conference, Metro Health announced 12 new positive coronavirus tests bringing the overall infected total to 57. On Saturday, a woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions became the first person to die of the disease in Bexar County.
Metro Health is currently testing up to 160 people a day at Freeman Coliseum and private labs also are testing patients throughout Bexar County. The overall number of tests conducted has not been disclosed.
Cities, counties, and states across the U.S. have issued similar declarations – sometimes called “shelter in place” – including Dallas County, which issued its own on declaration Sunday and the City of Waco and McLennan County, which issued the order Monday morning. The City of Austin and Travis County are expected to issue a similar measure on Tuesday.
So far, Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t issued an overarching order for the state. He noted during a press conference Sunday that 200 of the state’s 254 counties haven’t reported a single case of the coronavirus.
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“We need to see the level of effectiveness of the executive order,” Abbott said, according to The Texas Tribune. “What we may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point of time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19.”
Asked if a statewide stay-at-home order would help stem the spread of coronavirus, Wolff said his responsibility was to the residents of Bexar County.
“We believe in local control – as you know we’ve had a bit of trouble with that in the Legislature last [session],” Wolff said, noting the State’s attempts to preempt local rules. “So it’s interesting to see the governor say, ‘Well, it’s up to you guys.’ … Personally, I like it. I really [want to] take responsibility along with the mayor to do what’s right rather than turn it over to the governor of the state of Texas.”
Nirenberg demurred at the question at first, but later echoed Wolff’s stance.
“It really doesn’t matter [what the state does],” Nirenberg said. “What we’re going to do is use every tool at our disposal to make sure that our citizens are safe from the disease. Obviously health uniformity would be great … but our control is over our community here in San Antonio and Bexar County.”
City residents, including employees who feel their employer is not adhering to the mandate, are asked to call the San Antonio Police Department’s non-emergency line, 210-207-SAPD, if they see a violation of the order.
“[This] is an executive order,” Wolff said. “It’s not just asking.”