Governor takes actions to slow down deadly virus

State Capital Highlights



Texas is more invested every day in promoting increased and thorough hand washing, disinfecting surfaces and social distancing to reduce cases of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As of March 22, the cumulative count of patients testing positive in Texas increased to 334. The death count stood at five with 8,756 people having been tested, according to figures posted by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

As the work week began, Gov. Greg Abbott was still not ready to order all Texans to stay at home, as local authorities ordered in Dallas County. However, he issued four statewide executive orders in accordance with federal guidelines issued by President Trump and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

—Every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people;

—People shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts or visiting gyms or massage parlors — provided, however, that drive-thru, pickup or delivery options are allowed and highly encouraged throughout the limited duration of the executive order;

—People shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance; and

—Schools shall temporarily close.

Abbott’s orders, effective through 11:59 p.m. on April 3, are subject to extension.

Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt also declared a public health disaster last week. Hellerstedt’s declaration allows state and local health authorities to more easily require property owners to disinfect, decontaminate, and seal off property that might be contaminated by COVID-19.

The declaration also:

—Authorizes health authorities to take control measures to eradicate the threat to public health; —Streamlines the process for health authorities to invoke the courts to enforce quarantines of individuals; and —Activates enhanced tools for DSHS to collect disease and health information and to share that information with law enforcement personnel and first responders, as appropriate.

Price-gougers beware

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on March 21 warned retail suppliers, including those who supply grocery stores and pharmacies, that state law strictly prohibits price gouging in the wake of a disaster.

Price gouging laws apply to any person or entity selling necessities at an exorbitant or excessive price after a disaster has been declared by the governor or president. This prohibition includes those who supply retailers.

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Paxton said, any pricegougers may be required to reimburse consumers and may be held liable for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation with an additional penalty of up to $250,000 if the affected consumers are elderly.

ED STERLING is the Director of Member Services at Texas Press Association.

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