Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement last week of GA-34, which retracts most of the other Governor’s Order enacted related to COVID-19 over the last several months, goes into effect today (Wednesday, March 10). Businesses that choose to do so will be allowed to reopen with no capacity limits, and most public face mask requirements are also lifted — although business owners are allowed to request people wear masks if they choose. No one can be punished with jail time for not wearing a mask, however, according to the Governor’s Order. Local city and county COVID-19 protocols vary.
GA-34 refers school districts to Texas Education Agency, which along with UIL is recommending that schools continue to follow the recommended protocols in place through the end of the semester. Sulphur Springs ISD will continue to follow masking and other COVID-19 protocols as recommended and other school districts are evaluating options to determine what’s best for their schools.
Local city and county governments also have to determine what if any COVID-19 protocols will be enacted for their agency or offices.
Sulphur Springs city offices masking requirements are lifted today for visitors and employees. City meetings have been conducted more often than not via Zoom over the last year due to COVID-19 with City Council meetings streamed on the city’s YouTube channel. The City is expected in the foreseeable future to return to in-person meetings, but could have less available seating in order to provide social distancing, according to the city manager. Currently, the next Planning and Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustments on March 15 and 16, respectively, are still currently scheduled to take place via Zoom.
At the March City Council meeting, he said he expect to in April if conditions continue to improve to present a plan to require those who are delinquent on city utility bills to begin paying them, plus 1/12th of the owed amount. The City, during the pandemic, adopted a policy of not turning off city residents’ water if they fall behind on their bills; Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell said he anticipates lifting that as early as April.
For months Sulphur Springs Police Department’s lobby has been closed, with visitors required to speak to a dispatcher by pushing a button outside the front door to arrange for the appropriate person to come out to speak to them or escort them to the appropriate location. As has been the case for all city offices, masks have been required for all visitors and employees who are not working alone in their offices. The lobby will now be open during regular business hours and the masking requirement is lifted at the police department, as normal pre-COVID-19 operations resume.
Sulphur Springs Fire Department, however, will continue to have limited access for visitors this month, but is expected to return to normal procedures in April if the COVID-19 situation continues to improve overall, according to Maxwell.
Members of the Hopkins County/Sulphur Springs Emergency Management will continue working together, monitoring the COVID-19 situation and following safety protocols as appropriate, according to Hopkins County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Endsley.
In county offices and facilities, each employee will determine whether or not he or she wears a mask. Safeguards, the protective glass partitions, will remain in place separating the general public in the County Clerk, Tax and Justice of the Peace offices. Social distancing of six feet will still be encouraged.
Hopkins County Fire Department and Sheriff’s Office staff will continue disinfectant programs for county facilities. Temperatures will be taken as appropriate. If an employee is not feeling well, the county will still utilize health protocol to sends them home as appropriate, according to Endsley.
There will continue to be limited visitation at Hopkins County Fire Department. Firefighters and first responders will continue to wear the personal protective gear appropriate for the situation they respond to.
Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office will continue to follow certain protocols already in place for a while as a protective measure for all who work and are housed in the jail. That includes masks for jail employees and video visitation, according to the sheriff.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Eddie Northcutt plans to continue to operate under the local court plan and will comply with the most recent Texas Supreme Court order issued on March 5, 2021, until such time as he receives additional guidance from the Office of Court Administration. The Order continues to provide flexibility to courts to conduct proceedings remotely and provides revised criteria in order for courts to conduct in-person proceedings, including jury trials, according to the update posted by Texas Judicial Branch on March 5.
The City of Cumby will hold a special meeting Thursday, and anticipate discussing the COVID-19 situation, including what, if any COVID protocols, will be followed. That meeting will take place in person but, due to limitation of only 10 to attend, the meeting will be available on Zoom for the community as well.
The City of Como isn’t requiring the mayor and council members to wear a mask during City Council meetings so that they can properly be heard by those attending. Those who attend the meeting are suggested to wear a mask, but it will not be mandatory. Visitor chairs likely will be arranged in a manner to observe social distancing for the safety of those attending meetings. At the city office, customers will continue to be admitted one at a time until the protective shield ordered comes in and can be installed as a precautionary measure for city employees and visitors.