The Chambers County Commissioners have officially declared a disaster in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, affecting mass gatherings, price gouging, and imposes a curfew for people 18 and under.
The curfew was effective immediately after Judge Jimmy Sylvia and Commissioners Jimmy Gore, Mark Tice and Billy Combs voted in favor of it. Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Nelson was unable to attend Tuesday’s emergency meeting because he was at a Houston/Galveston Area Council event.
Before the commissioners voted on the disaster declaration, Dr. Clay Brown, the local health authority for the county, spoke to the court about COVID-19, or the coronavirus.
“The bottom line is we got this virus to deal with, and despite what you hear, they do not know a lot about it other than the fact it is extremely contagious,” Brown said. “Our testing has been lacking such that there are people positive with this virus that we do not know about.”
Brown said the only thing known to stop the spreading of the virus is to keep people away from each other.
“That is where our efforts have been concentrated. That is how it spreads. Some can be spread on surfaces, but by and large, it is someone being around someone else,” Brown said. “The judge has taken measures to limit those gatherings in Chambers County. We are looking at (a limit of) 50 right now. That is subject to change as things develop.”
The declaration states any event sponsored by the county, and any event that includes 50 or more people shall cease immediately. In addition, nursing homes and senior living centers will have to limit visitors.
The curfew is 24-hours and affects people 18-and-under that are not in school or accompanied by a parent or guardian. It also affects anyone in that age group not going to work or home from work.
The court’s declaration also means no one can price gouge in the county. This encompasses pretty much all goods sold at stores as well as housing. Anyone violating any of the provisions set in the declaration is subject to fines up to $500.
Brown said they are testing folks in the county, but there are no cases to report as of Tuesday morning.
“We are grateful for that, but I predict at some point in time, we will,” he said. “That is the way it is going everywhere right now.”
Brown thanked Sylvia and the commissioners for their efforts on the restrictions.
“At this point in time, I think they are good, but we may have to go further as time goes as we get some positive cases and identify areas that may need to be restricted further,” Brown said.
Combs inquired about how many people are being tested in Chambers County. Mary Beth Bess, a health services director for Chambers County, said, based on a recommendation from the Texas Department of State Health Services, only confirmed cases are to be released.
“But we are testing in Chambers County,” Bess said. “But, I do not want to give a number that alarms people. I want people to know we have the ability to (test), and if people need a higher level of care, our system is well equipped, and the health department is well equipped.”
Brown added the health department is working with hospitals to make sure they can provide testing.
Sylvia asked what someone should do if they begin to feel the symptoms of the coronavirus, which includes fever, unresolved coughing, shortness of breath and aching.
“Do not come to work. Stay home and call your doctor, or us,” Brown said. “Let them know you are sick and need to be seen and follow instructions from there. Your private doctor will tell you what you need to do and assess to see if you are eligible.”
Brown emphasized the health department is not testing anyone.
“That has to be done by your private doctor, at an emergency room, at an urgent care facility, or one of the hospitals,” he said.
Bess said not all primary care offices are doing testing.
Sylvia said all judicial functions for county court are canceled.
“I say all, but I have agreed with law enforcement and the county attorney’s office that we will still do some pleas,” Sylvia said. “If someone has done their jail time long enough, and sat out their time, we’ll bring them in, plea them out and send them on their way.”
Sylvia added district court would be closed for two weeks, and commissioners court is considering live-streaming in the future.
“We’ll have full transparency,” he said. “We do not want anyone to be here that doesn’t have to be here.”
The county’s tax office will be closed this week, and the county auditor’s office will close for the next two weeks.
County Clerk Heather Hawthorne said her office is open for marriage licenses, birth and death certificates, and all recordings. The county’s deed room is closed since those records are online, Hawthorne said.
For the Chambers County Health Department in Anahuac, call 409-267-2731. For the Mont Belvieu department, call 409-267-2619. For the Winnie department, call 409-267-2651. For the county clerk’s office, call 409-267-2418.