Texas, Montgomery County face coronavirus threat; State Republican Convention postponed until July

Texas, Montgomery County face coronavirus threat; State Republican Convention postponed until July

Image: This lady in Shanghai, China, wore protective clothing to prevent contracting the coronavirus, while she shopped at a Costco on February 29, 2020.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe and Austin, March 17 – “We are facing unprecedented challenges in our State, in our Nation, and in our local communities from the coronavirus,” explained Republican Party of Texas (RPT) Chairman James Dickey during a statewide telephone “town hall” Monday evening, March 16, 2020. In response to admonishments from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dickey and the RPT leadership have proposed to move the Texas Republican Convention to July 13 to July 18, 2020, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. The Republican Party has presently scheduled the Convention for May 14 to May 16 at the same location.

Dickey explained during the “town hall” that the CDC has recommended that meetings in urban areas should limit groups to ten (10) people. Additionally, the CDC recommended Sunday night that all meetings of fifty (50) or more should postpone for the next eight weeks.

Senatorial District and County Conventions, which would select delegates to the State Republican Convention, presently are set to occur on Saturday, March 21, but Dickey and the RPT leadership have recommended postponing those conventions to a date outside of the eight-week window of the CDC’s admonishment about large gathering.

“We just protect health and safety, but…we must also comply with the provisions of the Texas Election Code,” Dickey told the conference call participants. “Every delegate has the right to attend the convention…to make motions…to speak in debate…[and] the right to cast votes.” As a result, Dickey expressed his “strongest recommendation to adjourn the March 21 meetings to convene outside the CDC’s 8-week suspension period…Clearly, the work of the SD conventions must be completed prior to our State Convention.”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s report

Left to right: Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and State Representative Will Metcalf (R-Conroe).

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick gave a report to the “town hall” participants. “It’s a war against a virus. It’s like we’re on a war footing…The numbers are changing every day…There are 69 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas as of today [Monday, March 16]. We expect those numbers to increase dramatically as we increase the numbers we’re testing…We’re testing ten thousand people per week. We’re opening drive-through testing for health care providers in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin…The people we’re going to test are health care providers and first responders, as well as those with symptoms and those who are vulnerable.”

Patrick explained that the symptoms of coronavirus are high fever, coughing, and respiratory illness. “We’re trying to stay ahead of this.” Patrick recommended that Texas citizens “reduce non-essential contacts…[and engage in] social distancing.”

Currently 177 school districts have closed around Texas. Patrick explained, “We have not issue an order to close any school district from the State of Texas. We’re allowing the school districts to make their own decisions…Some school districts have said they’re going to stay open.”

The State government has begun fast-tracking for health provider licensing. Texas has also waived drivers license renewals temporarily in order to avoid the necessity of long lines of individuals seeking renewals.

“If you do not need to go out, do not go out in any kind of sizable groups…Keep your distance between people,” Lieutenant Governor Patrick urged. “There is no food or supply shortage. There is no need to stockpile supplies, but it’s wise to stockpile, so you don’t need to go to the store every day.”

“If you do not need to go out, do not go out in any kind of sizable groups…Keep your distance between people,” Lieutenant Governor Patrick urged. “There is no food or supply shortage. There is no need to stockpile supplies, but it’s wise to stockpile, so you don’t need to go to the store every day.”

Patrick explained that the State’s Emergency Management Division is distributing an allotment of supplies to health care providers from the national strategic stockpile. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is taking steps to punish price gougers.

Patrick also noted that “most viruses do die out in the summer from warmer temperatures, but we don’t know for sure what will happen with this one.”

Schools

The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, has confirmed that the Conroe Independent School District, the largest school district in Montgomery County, has made the determination to remain closed at least through Sunday, April 12, 2020.

Governor Greg Abbott yesterday announced that he has waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, Governor Abbott is requesting that the Department of Education (DOE) waive federal testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year.

Governor Abbott is working closely with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure that schools continue to deliver instruction to students while students are absent or while schools are closed due to COVID-19. This work includes tailoring instruction for students with special needs so that they have access to the same education as other students in the district. Governor Abbott will continue to work with the TEA on developing additional methods to ensure that students are learning and ready to succeed at the next grade-level. These discussions are ongoing and more information will be provided as it develops.

“Your health and safety are top priorities, and the state of Texas will give school districts flexibility to protect and ensure the health of students, faculty, and their families,” said Governor Abbott. “We will empower schools to make the best decisions to protect their communities from COVID-19.”

Monday, Congressman Kevin Brady (R-The Woodlands), working in collaboration with State Representative Steve Toth (R-Conroe), asked President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, temporarily to suspend the high-stakes testing requirements for federal school funding. As a result, Secretary DeVos is creating a process to waive standardized tests during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools should expect this waiver system established by the end of the week.




“STAAR testing has been a burden to students and teachers for years,” said Representative Toth. “I’ve voted against STAAR testing every time it’s come before me in the Texas House of Representatives. Since federal funding is tied to some of these tests, I spoke to Dr. Curtis Null at Conroe ISD about suspending federal testing requirements while we are responding to the spread of COVID-19. With the support of my superintendent, I asked Congressman Brady to reach out to Secretary DeVos to request a temporary waiver of the testing requirements for federal school funding during this national state of emergency. I am grateful for Congressman Brady’s complete and enthusiastic support for this proposal. Governor Abbott took the first step to waive state requirements for STAAR testing, and I’m thankful for his leadership. Our contribution to the Governor’s action was to ensure Texas won’t lose federal school funding for doing what is best for our students.”

“Her [DeVos’] point to me is that she wants the schools to be focused on the health and the safety of the kids,” Congressman Brady said.

Suspending open government and open meeting laws

Governor Abbott’s office yesterday approved a request by the Office of the Attorney General to suspend temporarily a limited number of open meeting laws in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disaster. This action will allow governmental bodies to conduct meetings by telephone or video conference to advance the public health goal of limiting face-to-face meetings (also called “social distancing”) to slow the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

This action does not suspend requirements that governmental bodies conduct meetings in a transparent and accessible manner. Specifically, governmental bodies are still be required to do the following:

  • provide online written notice containing a public toll-free dial-in number or a free-of-charge videoconference link, as well as an electronic copy of any agenda packet, before conducting telephonic or video conference meetings;
  • provide the public with access and a means to participate in those meetings, preferably through two-way audio or video connections; and
  • provide the public with access to a recording of those meetings.

Harris County restaurants and bars

The Harris County government and the City of Houston have ordered all restaurants and bars to close to the public for fifteen (15) days effective immediately. Takeout and delivery of restaurant food may still occur.

The Golden Hammer has confirmed that discussions of closures of Montgomery County restaurants and bars is underway inside of the Montgomery County government. This newspaper anticipates the closure will begin within twenty-four (24) hours of publication of this report.

Montgomery County government and restrictions

Numerous County government offices have closed to public visits, including Precinct 3 Montgomery County James Noack’s Office as well as the Spring Creek Greenway Nature Center and South County Community Center “in order to protect the populations at greatest risk of getting sick from this illness,” according to a statement Noack issued yesterday.

On Monday morning, March 16, Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, “the People’s Judge,” issued the following amended Order:

AMENDED ORDER AFFECTING THE OCCUPANCY OF PREMISES THROUGHOUT MONTGOMERY COUNTY

WHEREAS, on March 12, 2020, Montgomery County Judge Mark J. Keough signed an order affecting the occupancy of premises throughout Montgomery County; and

              WHEREAS, said order went into effect at midnight on March 13, 2020; and

WHEREAS, a local disaster declaration was declared on March 12, 2020, ratified and extended for 30 days by a duly called Emergency Meeting of Commissioners Court on the same day, and both similar State of Texas and Federal disaster declarations were issued on March 13, 2020; and

WHEREAS, the COVID-19 virus is contagious and spreads through person-to-person contact, especially in group settings; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to all Americans, requesting gatherings of 50 persons or more to cease for the next eight weeks on March 15, 2020; and

WHEREAS, an emerging public health emergency does currently exist and is expected to worsen, where Montgomery County desires to slow down and prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout Montgomery County; and

NOW THEREFORE, I, COUNTY JUDGE OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TEXAS, PURSUANT TO THE AUTHORITY VESTED BY TEXAS GOVERNMENT CODE CHAPTER 418, HEREBY AMEND AND ORDER:

Effective as of 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2020 and continuing until April 12, 2020, unless terminated or modified by an order, the County Judge of Montgomery County, Texas, deems it in the public interest to issue the following order(s):

1)      Any event sponsored or permitted by a political subdivision in Montgomery County shall cease.

2)      Events greater than 50 persons at all publicly held facilities across Montgomery County shall cease.

3)      Any event greater than 50 persons held at private facilities is urged to cancel but should make those determinations within their organizations and with staff of those facilities.

4)      Events of 50 persons or more that would include any population at severe risk of severe illness should cease.  The population at the greatest risk is anyone over the age at 65 and/or those with severe medical conditions as defined by CDC guidelines.

5)      Nursing homes and senior living centers should limit visitation of the public within their facilities.

6)      Restaurants, retail stores, private businesses, clubs or civic organizations and religious organizations to include churches, synagogues, mosques or other places of worship are urged to comply with the CDC guidelines related to 50 persons gathering in any one place or at one time.  Retail stores who sale groceries or medical supplies are exempt.

This order does NOT extend to law enforcement activities, emergency responses, court operations to include jury operations where necessary, and to all school districts or private school facilities within the jurisdiction of Montgomery County. 

All Montgomery County Employees must report for work as required by their supervisors. 

Effective immediately and through the duration of this order, all Montgomery County employees shall cease any work related travel. 

This order shall take effect at 5:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020 and extend until April 12, 2020 until otherwise rescinded or extended.

Financial markets

Stocks dropped nearly 10% at the opening of trading Monday on Wall Street, triggering an automatic 15-minute halt, as huge swaths of the economy come closer to shutting down, from airlines to restaurants. At the close, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) fell over 3,000 points, an historic 13% drop, to end at 20,178.67.

Spot crude ended at approximately $29.62 per barrel, down almost twenty dollars per barrel just in the past couple of week. Gold fell to $1489 per ounce, one of the most precipitous drops in the metal’s history.

 

 

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