'Y'all stay home': Fort Worth mayor encourages - but doesn't order - people to shelter-in-place

March 23,2020


See full WFAA article by Tanya Eiserer here.

Mayor Betsy Price encouraged Fort Worth residents to stay home Monday and promised that local county and city leaders are working on a coordinated response to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

She and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson signed a letter over the weekend encouraging Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a statewide shelter-in-place rule, which would close all nonessential businesses and limit gatherings. 

Abbott said Sunday that he is leaving those decisions to city and county leaders. 

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a shelter-in-place order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Monday in Dallas County, but other counties, including Tarrant County, haven't implemented such strict measures. 

Malls, retail stores, and hair and nail salons are all closed, and churches are no longer allowed to hold in-person services in Tarrant County. 

But Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley has yet to issue a more restrictive order. 

"We're certainly watching it very closely and the next step that we're probably looking at from where we are right now would be a shelter in place," he said Monday. 

As of Monday, Tarrant County has recorded 57 Covid-19 cases. Two of those have recovered. One person – Pat James, a resident of the Texas Masonic Center – died at an Arlington hospital.

Whitley also said that all 225 employees and residents of the Texas Masonic Retirement Center have been tested. In addition to James, four other people connected to the retirement center tested positive for the illness.

Current Tarrant County order
Under the current order, which extends through April 5, social gatherings of 10 or more are also banned. The penalty for violating the order could result in a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. 

Commissioner Roy Brooks argued Sunday during an emergency meeting that now is the time for such a measure. 

"Judge, I think it's the only way we are going to flatten the curve," Brooks said Sunday. 

The current Tarrant County order stops short of the action taken by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who ordered that residents to shelter in place and forbids social gatherings.

Jenkins said he had made the decision after consulting with medical experts and the hospital council. He said he was doing so to prevent the county’s hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients by late April.

“This order is our best chance to flatten the curve in Dallas County and safe as many lives as possible,” Jenkins said. “There will be economic hardship and business closures as a result of this order and it makes me sick that we are at this point.”

Unified response
On Monday, Price promised that city and county leaders are working toward a unified regional response. 

"Tomorrow morning you will have a coordinated message from the big city mayors and county judges on the response to COVID-19," the Fort Worth mayor said. 

Other counties across the state including Bexar, Harris, McClennan, Bell and Travis, have implemented shelter in place orders or were preparing to do so.

Tarrant County Commissioners are set to meet again Tuesday, where the topic of shelter in place will again be on the agenda.

"What I’ve said all along is that if you don't have a reason to be out, don't be out. If you’re going to work, when you finish work, go home," Whitley said. 

He said the county’s current order was based on discussion with the county’s majors, hospitals and health are officials.

Whitley said he expecting to be on a conference call Monday afternoon with county judges from Harris, Travis, Bexar, Dallas, Tarrant and El Paso to discuss those issues.

The Fort Worth mayor urged residents to get "a little bit tighter on how much you're out and who you're around."  

"Y'all stay safe. Y'all stay healthy, and y'all stay home," Price said.