As a countywide mandatory shelter-at-home order went into effect at midnight Thursday, many residents still were wondering exactly what it meant to their daily routines.
Questions fielded by the News-Journal since the order was announced Wednesday included some about outdoor activities, travel, essential businesses and other topics.
In announcing the order Wednesday, Gregg County said this: As part of the shelter-at-home provisions, all residents should shelter at their place of residence except for those engaged in essential activities and business.
“Additionally, to the extent individuals use shared indoor or outdoor space, they should maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet,” it said. “Travel into and out of the county is still allowed to perform essential activities, operate essential businesses or maintain governmental functions.”
And, Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt emphasized, all essential business are “strongly encouraged” to remain open.
“However, even essential businesses are encouraged to determine essential staff necessary to operate and to send nonessential staff home,” he said. “To the greatest extent feasible, essential businesses shall comply with social distancing requirements.”
Here are some answers to questions we’ve heard often over the past two days:
QUESTION: What is an essential business?
ANSWER: The list of businesses includes those that provide essential goods and services for the community. That includes health care, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, banks, laundromats, transportation, media, construction and several others detailed within the order. (Find the complete list with this story at news-journal.com .)
Q: What happens if I violate the order?
A: A person who knowingly or intentionally violates the order commits an offense that’s punishable by a fine of as much as $1,000 and/or confinement in jail for a term that does not exceed 180 days. Also, each day or portion of a day such a violation continues shall constitute a separate offense.
Q: Does this override the statewide order issued last week by Gov. Greg Abbott?
A: The state and county orders work together. The governor’s executive order limited public gatherings to a maximum of 10 people; prohibited eating and drinking at restaurants and bars while still allowing takeout; closed gyms; banned people from visiting nursing homes except for critical care; and temporarily close schools. Those restrictions remain in place.
Q: What should I do if I see restaurants, bars or other businesses violating the county or statewide orders?
A: Contact your local police or sheriff’s office to alert them of the violation.
Q: Will people who are out and about be asked for justification for leaving their home, or to show ID?
A: There is no requirement of proof that you are allowed to be outside your home. Officials say this is because the shelter-at-home order presumes residents will adhere to their civic duty and follow the guidelines for the greater good of the community. If obvious violations are seen, however, you could be stopped.
Q: Is there a curfew?
A: No, not at this time.
Q: Is outdoor recreation such as jogging, walking and biking allowed? Can I go to a city park?
A: Yes, going outside is considered an essential activity. You may do a variety of outdoor activities while still maintaining social distancing. Parks are still open.
Q: What is considered “essential travel”? Am I still allowed in and out of the city?
A: Yes, travel is allowed into or out of the city to perform essential activities, operate essential businesses or maintain essential governmental functions. Essential travel includes that related to business and governmental functions; travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, people with disabilities or other vulnerable people; travel to and from educational institutions to receive materials for distance learning, meals and related services; and travel related by law enforcement or court order.
Q: Can I use public transportation, ride share or a taxi?
A: Only for essential travel. In circumstances under which such transportation is needed, you should still practice social distancing, cover your mouth and nose if you cough or sneeze, use hand sanitizer or wash your hands before and after rides.
Q: Will day cares have to close?
A: Some day cares might close, but they are not required to close based on the shelter-at-home order. They are considered essential businesses and encouraged to stay open.
Q: What about stores? Can I still go shop?
A: Under the mandatory order, some nonessential retail stores are closed. Some, such as hardware stores, grocery stores and stores that provide products or services for other essential businesses, are considered essential and encouraged to remain open.
Q: Can I go fishing?
A: As long as you’re following social distancing guidelines and fish and game laws already in place, fishing is a fine outdoor activity.
Q: How long is the order in place?
A: It continues through 11:59 p.m. Thursday, April 9.