DALLAS — As of 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 23, all of Dallas County will be under a shelter-in-place order — the first county in Texas to do so.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued the order Sunday afternoon, with a press conference explaining the order immediately following it. Jenkins also confirmed a third COVID-19-related death in Dallas County.
The order will stay in effect until at least 11:59 p.m. on April 3. Jenkins said April 3 is when his current authority expires hence the deadline, but he expects that authority to be extended.
In the order, residents are ordered to "stay safe, stay at home" by staying in their places of residence. All non-essential businesses are ordered to close in-person operations. News media such as WFAA are considered "essential businesses," and are exempt from the shelter-in-place order.
Exceptions include medical care, trips to the grocery store, outdoor exercise and any other event that contributed to the health or safety of the people — all while maintaining social distancing.
“We have to eat," Jenkins said, reiterating that grocery stores are not closing and will not close.
'A difficult decision'
The new order came hours after Gov. Greg Abbott said he would not implement a statewide shelter-in-place order, but would instead leave it up to local authorities to make that decision.
During the news conference, Jenkins called issuing the shelter-in-place order “a difficult decision, but one based on science.”
“This order is our best chance to flatten the curve here in Dallas County and save as many lives as possible," Jenkins said.
According to Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County would reach a critical point in demand for hospital beds on April 12 with no action. With the order prior to the shelter-in-place, that projected date moved to April 28.
Jenkins said the goal of the new order was to never exceed Dallas County's hospital capacity.
Earlier Sunday, Gov. Abbott waived all nursing restrictions in the state to allow retired nurses, certain nurses in their final year of nursing school, and nurses with inactive licenses to practice medicine, in order to combat the nursing shortage during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Abbott's executive order, in effect Sunday, will also fast-track licenses for out-of-state medical professionals and will require all hospitals in the state to suspend all non-essential surgeries and procedures to focus on treating patients with COVID-19.
'Be gracious and compassionate to one another'
Jenkins acknowledged the shelter-in-place would cause further pain to local businesses and residents, but hoped that local businesses, especially small businesses, “will come out with their livelihoods intact.”
“There’s not much good news or easy choices in this," Jenkins said. He invoked the sacrifices the Greatest Generation made for the safety of the country, saying residents in Dallas County and beyond must be willing to make personal sacrifices.
“I know this order is going to worry people," Jenkins said. “I want us to be gracious and compassionate to one another...when you see people that are way too close together…nicely remind them to stay six feet apart," he said.
Jenkins also reiterated his Saturday message about hoarding supplies from the grocery store, specifically toilet paper.
Supplies will last if people stop hoarding, he said.
As far as enforcement goes, Jenkins said that residents need to police themselves. This will keep first responders from unnecessary exposure and will allow them to focus on live-saving activities and keeping the peace with violent crimes.
Other areas across Texas
Jenkins is asking other local leaders to take the same action, and is hopeful the governor will reconsider taking stronger measures. “I appreciate the difficult situation he is in."
Dallas County saw the doubling of cases Sunday and will continue to see rapid growth, Jenkins said. “We cannot afford to wait,” he said.
But Jenkins stressed that the region must act together for the measure to truly be effective.
“I’m very hopeful this will be quickly adopted across the metroplex,” Jenkins said.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson issued a statement Sunday in support of Jenkins' actions, and said there should be a statewide shelter-in-place order.
"I am confident that regulations such as Dallas County’s most recent ones will help flatten the curve of COVID-19’s spread in Dallas, but this disease does not respect political boundaries," Johnson wrote. "Therefore, I believe a statewide or regional approach, as opposed to a county by county or city by city approach, is the best way to defeat this pandemic and defeat it quickly."
A list of North Texas health professionals and mayors including Johnson, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams wrote a joint letter to Gov. Abbott Sunday calling for a state-wide shelter-in-place order.
"We respectfully request that you consider issuing mandatory shelter-in-place orders for the State of Texas, or at minimum, that you very strongly recommend 'Safer at Home' directives fashioned in a similar nature to those implemented in New York and California," the letter reads in part.
See below for a list of what's allowed under the shelter-in-place order and to read the full order from the judge.
- You can leave your residence to exercise outside or to perform activities necessary to your health or safety. Residences include hotels, motels, shared rentals and similar facilities.
- Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is still open at this time. "DART is a first responder at this point," Jenkins said.
- All religious services are to go online, video or teleconference only.
- Restaurants are still allowed to serve drive-thru or takeout.
- News media outlets, first responders and essential government employees are exempt.
- Hospitals, veterinary services and other essential healthcare facilities are still operational.