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The Corsicana City Council declared a local state of disaster during its Monday, March 23 session, mandating a shelter in place order effective 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 8.

The declaration was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has been spreading globally, with infection rates growing throughout the United States. Several counties and cities throughout Texas have already established shelter in place mandates over the last week, with more areas adopting the practice.

The declaration, as presented by Paul Henley, Corsicana Fire Chief and City Emergency Management Coordinator, activates the City of Corsicana emergency management plan. The plan authorizes the furnishing of aid and assistance, and gives permission to the city to suppress the virus, including quarantine of people and places, examining and regulating hospitals.

The emergency declaration limits the size of gatherings, mandating the cancellation of all such gatherings until further notice. However, outdoor activity is not banned, though social distance should be observed.

In accordance with the Governor’s declaration, people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts or visiting gyms or massage parlors; provided, however, the use of drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options are encouraged.

People shall not visit nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.

A person who knowingly violates this declaration commits an offense punishable by a fine up to $1,000 per occurrence or confinement in jail for a term that does not exceed 180 days.

Henley said the document takes the best of what Waco and Dallas County have already adopted.

"As weather improves people will want to get outside," Henley said. "It's totally fine to go to the parks and hike or bike if it is done responsibly."

As of the time of the Council meeting, City Manger Connie Standridge said there were 23 tests processed, with 14 negative results, and nine pending responses.

“This is something that is really serious,” Mayor Don Denbow said. “Some of the people are not taking it seriously and they should, but I think it's time that we do something that is in the best interests of the health of our citizens of Corsicana.”

Denbow confirmed he has the authority to mandate a shelter in place if circumstances called for it.

Pct. 3 City Councilman Chris Woolsey questioned the section of the declaration giving the city authority to control the ingress and egress, or coming and going, from the city.

"I don't think that's something we can constitutionally do," he said.

Standridge said in a state of emergency, the city does have that authority.

"That's not something we want to do," she said. "A good example of that would be a hurricane evacuation. I don't see that as something we would have to do in this situation."

Woolsey also questioned how the order applied to churches.

"If churches don't want to meet, that's OK," he said. "But I don't want a mandate coming from us saying they can't meet."

Henley said he took a lot of time deliberating the language in the document. "Nowhere does it forbid church services," he said. "But it strongly recommends keeping groups to 10 or less."

Dr. Kent Rogers of the Navarro County Public Health Department updated the council through a conference call.

"If you are waiting for something really large to convince you, you have waited too long," Rogers said. "There is no vaccine for this, prevention is our only weapon, and this means giving up some of our personal freedom of movement so that we can survive. The hospital has seven ventilators and 10 ICU beds. And remember, there has to be staffing for this. We've got to control the numbers or there will be nowhere to send these people.”

"I want people to realize they are saving a life." Rogers said in regard to maintaining social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

Rogers said the U.S. Surgeon General has told us "it is here" but we, as a county, have enough time to prevent the spread of the virus if we go into a serious restriction of movement.

Woolsey said he was concerned the restrictions would put more economic stress on small businesses and said he “didn't want to burn down the house to kill a few termites."

Pct. 4 Councilman Jeff Smith said he is not a proponent of government overreach, but does not want to be responsible for the first death in Navarro County.

"I view it as a blessing we don't have any cases at this time," he said.

Woolsey asked if the council should wait until the end of the week to see if the measures already in place are working.

"I don't want to put small businesses out because of this decision," he said. "At this stage it is just a threat, I don't see us in an emergency. I don't want to do too much, too quick."

Pct. 1 City Councilwoman Susan Hale said if we do not flatten the spread, people will die.

"Do you want that on your head?" she asked Woolsey. "It’s here. It's going to happen."

Denbow said he too was worried about the impact on small business, but with the virus' two week incubation period, he was not willing to wait any longer to see results.

The declaration passed with a 4-1 vote, with with amendments defining the effective time period as 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, March 25 through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 8 and with the removal of wording that would allow regulation of traffic in and out of the city. Woolsey was the sole opposing vote.

While the shelter in place declaration took up the majority of the meeting's discussion, the Council addressed and approved a number of other agenda items.

During the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report presentation, the auditor's opinion was stated that the City's financial statements were materially correct, with revenues overbudget by $640,000, and total operation were underbudget by $990,000.

Other items approved during the Council meeting:

• Suspending the effective date proposed by Atmos Energy Corporation –MidTex Division to increase rates under the Gas Reliability Infrastructure Program for 45 days, and authorize the City’s continued participation in the “Atmos Texas Municipalities” coalition of cities.

• Designating the month of April 2020 as Fair Housing Month for the City of Corsicana.

• Authorizing the sale of 95.261 acres of property to Audubon Metals Texas LLC.

The Council tabled postponing the General Election of May 2 to be moved to the Uniform Election Date of Nov. 3.

Upcoming announcements for the public include:

City offices will be closed in observance of the Good Friday on Friday, April 10.

The landfill is open Friday, April 10, with regular hours, but closed Saturday, April 11.

Denbow reminded the attending audience to please take the time to fill out and complete their 2020 Census forms. The survey can be filled out online, by phone, or by mail.

“We're a little behind surrounding counties on our response rate,” Standridge said. “So if anyone that's listening or watching hasn't responded, please respond so we can match the other surrounding counties.”

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