COPPERAS COVE — Coryell County and the City of Copperas Cove are extending their current disaster declarations, though they are not joining their neighboring counties in issuing explicit stay-at-home orders.
So far, two positive tests for the coronavirus have been confirmed in the county. Both of those cases have come in Copperas Cove. A male in his 70s became the second person diagnosed with the virus this week. That man has been hospitalized due to underlying health concerns, according to Copperas Cove Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Young. A woman who works in Belton was the first case.
The Coryell County Commissioners Court voted Friday morning to extend the county’s current declaration of local disaster through May 4.
County Judge Roger A. Miller and Commissioners Don Jones, Kyle Matthews, Daren Moore and Ray Ashby met by teleconference to maintain social distancing standards. The hour-long special meeting focused first on an update from Judge Miller and Coryell County Emergency Management coordinator Robert Harrell on actions to help fight the spread of COVID-19 within the county. Harrell urged county residents to continue hygiene practices such as hand washing and using hand sanitizer, and to continue practicing proper social distancing. Miller also encouraged residents of the county to avoid traveling to other counties with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, saying such travel could lead to exposure to and transmission of the virus.
Miller also said he has been in communication with both the Gatesville ISD and the Copperas Cove ISD to discuss whether schools should reopen this year. Texas Gov. Abbott’s executive order on closing schools expires May 4. Miller said there has been discussion on whether to close schools for the remainder of the year, given how few weeks of class would remain once they could reopen. Miller said the subject would be discussed further in the coming weeks.
Following the update, the commissioners began discussing extending the disaster declaration issued by the county on March 13 and amended on March 23. Much of the discussion centered on restricting public access to the county courthouse and offices to allow only essential business. The commissioners agreed that such restrictions should be put in place. In addition, the commissioners agreed that the disaster declaration should be amended to reflect the executive order issued by Governor Abbott on Tuesday. That order requires Texans to stay at home unless engaged in essential services or activities.
The vote to extend and amend the disaster declaration passed unanimously.
About two hours after the commissioner’s meeting ended, the Copperas Cove City Council met for a special session about amending and extending the city’s current disaster declaration.
Continuing to practice social distancing during their meetings, six members of the council were present in their chambers, along with Mayor Bradi Diaz and City Manager Ryan Haverlah. Councilwoman Joann Courtland attended the meeting remotely via video conferencing software.
The public was also not able to attend the meeting in person. Nearly 400 people watched the council meeting on Facebook Live, while more than 70 logged in to watch through the Zoom video conference app.
The meeting began with Haverlah explaining the purpose of extending the disaster declaration. Haverlah explained it might become more difficult to get the state and federal governments to reimburse expenses incurred by the city during the coronavirus pandemic if the disaster declaration was to lapse. The disaster declaration the council would discuss was set up to mirror Abbott’s executive order issued earlier this week.
Diaz opened the floor to public comment, and many people were critical of the council for not creating a stay-at-home order similar to those issued by neighboring governments in Bell and Lampasas counties. Chat comments on Facebook and the video conference app mirrored those criticisms.
Haverlah voiced his opinion that the governor’s executive order was, at heart, a stay-at-home order for the entire state. Diaz agreed, saying that the city’s declaration basically tells residents to stay home unless they are engaged in essential jobs or activities.
The discussion by members of council showed there was little support for adding more restrictions to the disaster declaration. Councilwoman Dianne Campbell said the city and the nation had to be cognizant of the economic effects that the current restrictions will create in the months ahead. Councilman Fred Chavez called actions to stop the spread of COVID-19 a “war,” saying the country needed to focus on stopping the virus and worry about the economic effects afterward.
After more than an hour of discussion, Councilman Jack Smith called for a vote on the disaster declaration. The measure was approved unanimously. The city’s amended disaster declaration will be in effect until April 30.
Copperas Cove resident Philip Kerzee took part in the meeting by video conference and told the council he supported issuing a stay-at-home order for the city. Following the meeting, Kerzee expressed his dissatisfaction with what he sees as a failure to act in the best interest of the public.
“The City Council is trying to hide behind...constitutional rights,” Kerzee said. “But in this time of crisis...measures have to be taken. If you have to relieve people of some constitutional rights, then it has to be done to protect them.”
Kerzee, 41, is a medically-retired veteran who has auto-immune system issues that he says would kill him if he contracts the coronavirus. Kerzee feels one of the things the council needs to do immediately is stop so many people from congregating inside local grocery stores.
“I don’t know if you’ve been to H-E-B or Walmart in Copperas Cove, but they (the stores) are not doing it (proper social distancing). I know people who work inside these stores...and they’re telling me it’s a nightmare. They are scared.”
Haverlah is scheduled to update the council on any new developments in the coronavirus situation on Tuesday during the council’s next regular meeting.