City, county officials adopt emergency health and safety policy as cases surge across the state

By Gilda Morales

County Commissioners held a special meeting last Thursday and voted unanimously to adopt a declaration meant to protect the citizens of Culberson County against the threat of COVID-19. The meeting and approval of the declarations was spurred by the first 3 cases of the virus in Culberson County two weeks ago.

Governor Abbott had recently stripped county and city governments from exercising local controls over emergency management policies and took over the reopening of Texas even though cases of the virus were steadily rising. Large metropolitan areas like Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Austin and El Paso showed an increasing number of cases with no let up in site. However, when smaller towns like Alpine started showing a large number of positive cases, the reality and proximity of the virus moved the County to take proactive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Tarrant County was the first county to take the initiative to issue an emergency declaration requiring the use of face masks for all business patrons and for continued social distancing. Governor Abbott did not object, and in effect gave his blessing to local governments to make declarations that were more “customized” to each county. As a result, several county and city governments followed suit, including Brewster and Presidio counties. Culberson County adopted a generic version of the declaration and passed it unanimously, but with a 5-day delay in implementation to give all businesses time to make copies of the official declaration that must be displayed by July 1, 2020. (See complete Declaration on Page 4.)

On the same day that Commissioners’ court was meeting to pass their declaration, Governor Abbott issued his own declaration in response to the surge in cases that have arisen since his last reopening orders. Abbott shut down bars again, scaled back restaurant capacity to 50% from 75%, shut down river-rafting trips and banned outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people without the approval of local officials. Abbott defended his actions by stating, “At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars. The actions in this executive order are essential to our mission to swiftly contain this virus and protect public health.”

On Friday, June 26, Van Horn City Council met to discuss and review the County’s declaration on masks and distancing. Unlike the unanimous decision for the health declaration by the County, there was a lengthy debate among city council members who were for the declaration and those who were against. When the dust settled, the motion passed with Joseph Corrales, Michael Garibay, and Karolyne Carloss voting for requiring businesses to require customers to wear masks when 6 feet of social distancing is not possible, and Lyndon McDonald and Rudy Hinojos voting against the mask requirement.

Council met again on Tuesday night with a very short agenda with a unanimous vote to approve the 2020-2021 hearing and report for the City water and to install a plexiglass partition at the golf course as part of safety measures to prevent Covid. Councilman Garibay proposed that speed bumps be placed on the street leading to the cemetery given the recent incident where two local residents were run over by a speeding car. Council decided to table the request until more research could be done on the legalities of placing speed bumps.

There was another discussion on the progress of the city pool which has been plagued by delays, including recently due to the pandemic. At this time, according to Carloss, the contractor is prepping the pool for plastering, but there is no definite time for completion.

There was a lengthy executive session, but no action was taken in open session.