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Whitley (center): “We are staying in step with the governor while looking to put the different sectors of the economy back to work.”

Visitors to the fifth floor of the Tarrant County Administration Building were checked for cold and flu symptoms before being admitted to the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday. The morning gathering opened with a briefing lead by Dr. Vinny Taneja, Tarrant County Public Health Director.

“Texas is No. 4 [in the country] at 190,000 cases” tested, he said during a slideshow presentation. We have 1,333 positive cases in Tarrant County and “three more deaths to report.” 

The public health message for Tarrant County residents remains the same, he continued. 

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“Stay at home,” he said. “You don’t need to be out unless you are performing a critical function. When you are out, the guidance is to wear some kind of facemask. Wash your hands, cover your cough, stay home if you are sick, and seek medical care if you are seriously sick.”

Commissioner Roy Brooks asked Taneja how his department will know when Tarrant County COVID-19 cases peak. 

“That’s a good question,” Taneja replied. “There are several ways to look at it. One of the easiest is to look [for guidance from] our federal plan. The number of cases reported should be on a downward trend for 14 days. That’s a good indicator. You can’t tell when you are at the top, but you can see a downward curve.” 

Topping the agenda was a vote to amend the county’s ongoing executive order, which was first enacted on March 27. The order, which largely mirrors Fort Worth’s shelter-in-place order, calls for the temporary shuttering of nonessential businesses and adherence to social distancing guidelines. 

County Judge Glenn Whitley said, “What we are doing with the changes to this order is bringing this in line and in compliance with the governor’s orders.”

Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order allows for the resumption of elective medical procedures under new guidelines. Retail stores will be able to service customers under social distancing guidelines this Friday.

The changes to the county orders were largely perfunctory. The state-level guidelines supersede local orders. Whitley did hint that Tarrant County would be taking steps in the near future to work under the state directives to open up businesses even as several public comments urged against opening businesses too soon

“When we started this,” Whitley said, “we put the restrictions in place to make sure we didn’t fill up our hospitals to the point where they had to close. I think we have been successful with that. I do believe that we need to begin a parallel track. We have the economy, business, and health. We have been primarily, if not exclusively, on the health front. Now, we have to begin to discuss and think about how to open businesses back and new ways that we will operate those businesses to make sure that we don’t reignite the spread of this virus. We are two to three weeks, maybe four weeks, away from beginning to lessen those restrictions. We are staying in step with the governor while looking to put the different sectors of the economy back to work.”  

The city said it is waiting for Abbott.

“The city will be waiting until Gov. Abbott announces his plans for reopening on April 27 before considering any changes to the current declaration,” the city attorney said. 

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