After a monthlong spike in COVID-19 related emergency room visits, Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra has reinstated the city’s state of disaster.
Segarra signed the declaration Thursday, which will remain in effect, pending approval by the Killeen City Council. The declaration will remain in effect until it is terminated by the mayor.
The decision to declare a local state of disaster comes just six days after Bell County declared its own state of disaster.
“The choice to once again declare a local disaster is based entirely on better insuring that Bell County, and city governments within Bell County, may all benefit from resources and reimbursements that would only be available to entities with active disaster declarations,” Judge David Blackburn said in a press release on Aug. 13. “It is simply an administrative measure.”
Segarra gave a similar statement Thursday, reiterating that the decision was mostly administrative.
“Right now we’re just doing an emergency declaration,” Segarra said.
In a similar vein, Killeen’s Executive Director of Communications Janell Ford stated Thursday in a follow-up press release that the declaration signed Thursday is the same that the city approved in March of 2020.
“The Local State of Disaster Declaration that was reinstated today by the City of Killeen is the same one that was originally issued in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The disaster declaration was re-issued for the purposes of state and federal funding eligibility. The original one ended on June 1, when Bell County terminated their disaster declaration. This will assist with pandemic-related resources and expenses and is an administrative step.”
Strictly speaking, however, this declaration is more limited in scope than the one signed in March of 2020. Section 5 of the current declaration spells out the city’s powers as it responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This declaration authorizes the city to take any necessary actions to promote health and suppress the virus, including but not limited to the quarantine of persons and occupied structures, establishing quarantine stations, testing stations, vaccination stations and emergency hospitals; and insuring compliance for those who do not comply with the city’s rules and directives.”
Facebook users were quick to claim overexertion of authority and “immediate threat to liberty,” but Segarra assured residents that the measure is simply so the city can receive funding.
“We’re not quarantining anyone, we’re just issuing a declaration, just to make sure that we continue to receive the federal assistance that we’ve been getting,” he said.
Segarra acknowledged that some individuals may feel alarmed by the language in the press release but said that Killeen’s press release was “pretty much in line with what Bell County had put out last week.”
Several of the previous declaration’s powers have been removed, such as the authority to regulate ingress and egress from the city, as well as the ability to shut down gatherings larger than 50 individuals.
Moreover, the city is itself restricted in its ability to pass coronavirus-related measures due to an executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott on July 2. The order, which notably came just prior to the uptick in COVID-19 related emergency room visits, bars any city from requiring vaccines in any form, requiring proof of vaccination or applying COVID-19 based operating limits on businesses.
Ultimately, the city’s response will be dictated by the state of the coronavirus and measured by the state’s authority.
Several members of Killeen’s City Council responded for comment.
Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King
“It is unfortunate that a declaration of disaster was declared for the city but, we are prepared to assist with decreasing COVID-19 cases by providing free testing and vaccination site. We must work together to decrease the spread of the virus by wearing masks, washing hands and practicing social distances in order to keep our community health.”
Councilman Michael Boyd
“The Mayor of Killeen recently declared a Local State of Disaster for a Public Health Emergency. It is truly unfortunate that COVID-19 continues to spread across our community. I humbly ask individuals to consider getting vaccinated, if they haven’t already. It is my hope that individuals continue to wear a mask when or where needed.”
Councilwoman Nina Cobb
“Let’s continue to work together and follow the guidelines of our Public Health Department and Emergency Management.”
The city’s four other council members did not respond to the request for comment by press time Thursday.
Councilwoman Mellisa Brown
"The current rise is COVID cases has caused the County and the City to issue a State of Disaster. This is primarily so that we can apply for and potentially receive any State or Federal assistance that becomes available.
There is no intention to put any new mandatory restrictions on anyone at this time. We follow what the County issues and the County generally follows what the state puts out."
Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez
"Our municipal leaders are a line of defense by alerting us locally of imminent threats and also notifying the state of our status. We must be proactive, the statistics are clear locally, statewide and nationally, there is an unfortunate and swift rate of increased cases. It is good to know that our leadership is looking forward and taking the steps to ensure our city is informed, and that should additional resources be needed as a result, we will have that access as an option."