COPPERAS COVE — The City of Copperas Cove is extending a disaster declaration issued by Mayor Bradi Diaz for another week, but is not going to issue a stay-at-home order for city residents.
Thursday evening’s special meeting was an unusual one for the City Council. In order to practice social distancing and limit the number of participants physically present in the council chambers, the City Council rearranged seating for council members and did not admit the public or the media. Six of the seven council members were physically present for the meeting, along with City Manager Ryan Haverlah and Mayor Diaz. Councilwoman Joann Courtland joined the meeting through a video meeting app. Members of the public also had the option of using the video meeting link as well as phoning into the meeting. The city also streamed the meeting on Facebook Live.
About 100 people chose the video option for the hour-long meeting, while nearly 500 people watched the Facebook Live broadcast at some point. There were no numbers available on how many people joined the meeting by telephone.
As for the agenda, the council was originally scheduled to consider whether to extend a disaster declaration issued by Cove Mayor Bradi Diaz last Friday. The declaration mirrored one issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that restricted public gatherings to no more than 10 people. It also ordered the closure of dine-in restaurant areas, gyms and massage parlors; stopped visitation at local nursing and retirement homes; and extended the closure of city schools.
The declaration was good for seven days and required a vote of the council to extend it any further. Originally, Thursday’s meeting was only to discuss an extension.
However, since the declaration took effect, a Copperas Cove resident had a positive test for coronavirus. It was the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in Coryell County. The agenda was then amended to include a discussion and possible approval of a stay at home order by the city following the announcement of that diagnosis.
Mayor Diaz said in a statement at the beginning of the meeting that the declarations being considered by the council were not meant to close businesses, but instead were meant to protect residents.
“We know that there are cases (of COVID-19) here,” Diaz said during her statement, “they have just not been identified.
“We need residents to stay home. If you are not driving to work, to medical appointments, to shop for groceries, or performing tasks essential to the health and safety of yourself or your family, you should not be on the road,” Diaz said.
When discussion began on the stay at home order, several members of the council objected to the idea. Councilman Jay Manning stated his feelings that such emergency orders violate individual rights under both the Texas and U.S. Constitution. Councilwoman Dianne Campbell voiced her belief that Copperas Cove residents would do the right thing in protecting themselves from coronavirus without a stay at home order. Councilman Fred Chavez supported the stay at home order, saying that waiting until the virus “blossoms” in Copperas Cove would be too late to react. Councilwoman Courtland said she worried that a stay at home order would increase the negative impact on businesses in the city. Councilman Marc Payne agreed with Chavez, urging his colleagues to err on the side of safety in order to shut down the spread of the virus. Councilman Jack Smith said he agreed that people should stay home to protect themselves, but said he didn’t know if “locking people up in their houses for a week would do any good at all.”
Councilman Dan Yancey invited Dr. J.D. Sheffield to speak on whether a stay at home order would be effective. Dr. Sheffield was introduced by the city manager as the local health authority for Coryell County. Sheffield said that he has spoken to many people about coronavirus and its spread, and that there is no consensus on whether now is time to issue stay at home orders or if it is too early in the course of the disease.
Yancey went on to say that people should use common sense in protecting themselves and their loved ones, and that a stay at home order would not deter those determined to violate it.
The council ultimately voted 5-2 against the stay at home order.
Discussion on extending the mayor’s original disaster declaration was much shorter, as most council members voiced their support for having some type of measure in place. They voted to extend the declaration another seven days, meaning it will now expire April 3.
The City Council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, so any consideration of extending the disaster declaration will require another special meeting.
The city has set up a hotline for coronavirus questions at 254-542-8920. The hotline operates from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday.