Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
NOTE: Because the COVID-19 situation is dynamic, with new governmental measures each day, employers should consult with counsel for the latest developments and updated guidance on this topic.
On March 31, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-14 relating to statewide continuity of essential services and activities during the COVID-19 crisis. “Essential services” is defined as everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus certain religious services. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), which maintains an online list of essential services. The Order requires that all non-essential businesses in Texas close through April 30, 2020. Governor Abbott’s Executive Order further provides that, to the extent that any county or local jurisdiction has any rule that is inconsistent with his Executive Order, that rule is overridden. However, the governor added that counties may issue rules imposing stricter requirements than those contained in his Executive Order.
On April 3, 2020, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff issued a supplemental Executive Order to the Stay Home, Work Safe Order in accordance with the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 that includes additional information on the work standards in long-term care facilities. Specifically, the supplemental order limits employees’ direct contact with patients, requires screening for all visitors and employees before entering any Bexar County-owned or leased facility, and adds more precautionary measures, including closure of recreational areas where social distancing and sanitizing requirements are difficult or impossible to meet.
Further, on April 5, Judge Wolff extended the Stay Home, Work Safe measures through April 30, 2020. The Amended Order includes the following changes:
- Suspension of home foreclosures and evictions.
- All Bexar County parks will be closed to the public beginning April 10, 2020, through April 13, 2020 (Easter weekend).
- All recreational areas where social distancing and sanitizing requirements are difficult or impossible to meet, such as basketball courts, community centers, and playgrounds, will continue to be closed until the order is rescinded or expires.
- Sellers are prohibited from price gouging any of the following categories of items: (1) groceries, beverages, toilet articles, ice; (2) restaurant, cafeteria, and boarding-house meals; or (3) medicine, pharmaceutical, and medical equipment and supplies.
- Religious services may be conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship if they cannot be conducted remotely by audio, video, or teleconference whenever possible in accordance with Governor Greg Abbott's Executive Order GA 14 and the guidance provided by his office.
Otherwise, the language from Judge Wolff’s original March 23 Order remains in effect. You can read our ASAP on his initial Order here.
On April 2, 2020, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt issued additional Construction and Religious Services Guidance documents as a follow-up to the county’s March 23 Stay-at-Home Order and the governor’s Executive Order.
As to construction, Judge Eckhardt stated that Travis County will not be enforcing a prohibition against residential or commercial construction in light of the governor’s Executive Order, which authorizes construction for Essential Services and Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce as defined by the CISA Guidance. However, for all construction sites within Travis County with more than 10 active workers at any time, the person in charge of the overall site (“Site Manager”) is required to comply with rules laid out in the Order, such as:
- posting at the site, in languages understood by all persons working there, a notice showing the sizes and types of shift crews working there, and directions on how the Site Manager is limiting crew sizes and rotating shifts;
- conducting a jobsite pre-screening of the general health of each worker, understood by the worker, every day before the commencement of work;
- ensuring that the site has at least one handwashing station with soap or hand sanitizer for each 15 workers at the site;
- prohibiting the use of community water coolers;
- ensuring that shared tools are disinfected between users, and that common areas (lunch and break areas, toolbox talk areas, large equipment, etc.) and collective touch points (doorknobs, counters, keyboards, etc.) are cleaned and disinfected at least twice a day; and
- posting in a conspicuous place or places on a site where notices to employees are customarily posted, once such signage is made by available by the county, a sign in English and Spanish providing the social distancing requirements and recommendations for employees in Exhibit B of the Order, and the provisions in Section 2 of the guidance, and information for workers to submit complaints of any violations.
There are additional instructions regarding what to do in the event a worker contracts COVID-19, as well as mandates not to retaliate against workers who decline to work based on certain criteria or need to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19. The county order does not apply to state or federal projects, employees, or facilities.
As to religious services, Judge Eckhardt specified that, to the extent religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services due to a lack of capability (technological or financial), they should comply with the governor’s Executive Order and be conducted consistent with the guidelines from the president and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In light of the governor’s Order, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell extended the county’s Stay-at-Home Order through April 30. Essential activities and businesses may continue their operations. Referencing COVID-19 projections from The University of Texas at Austin, Judge Gravell noted, “The UT model shows that approximately 100,000 people in Williamson County could end up contracting COVID-19. Of those, they predict 5,000 will be hospitalized with nearly 800 in intensive care and hundreds dying. The only way to prevent this is to be vigilant in our efforts at social distancing and staying home.”
You can read our ASAP about the initial Central Texas Orders here.
On March 31, 2020, following Governor Abbott’s Executive Order requiring that all non-essential businesses close through April 30, Collin County Judge Chris Hill rescinded his conflicting March 24, 2020 Order, which deemed all businesses essential. As Collin County has still not issued its own Stay Home Order, businesses must look to Governor Abbott’s Executive Order for guidance as to whether they are deemed essential or non-essential for purposes of determining if they are permitted to continue on-site operations while the Order is in effect.
You can read our ASAP about the initial Collin County Order here.
On April 3, 2020, the Dallas County Commissioners Court extended its local disaster declaration through May 20, 2020. Under the extended disaster declaration, Dallas County Judge Jenkins extended the county’s Shelter-in-Place Order through April 30. The restrictions in the new Order mirror that of his initial stay-home Order, with the exception that all gatherings occurring outside a household of any number of people are prohibited.
Judge Jenkins also issued additional Orders between April 6-8 regarding restrictions for financial institutions, realtors, delivery companies, long-term care facilities, short-term rental and door-to-door-solicitors. Also, Judge Jenkins announced that the government was (1) issuing cease and desist letters to non-essential businesses that have designated themselves as essential and have continued to operate; (2) considering reviewing licensing/permit files for violators to determine if their licenses/permits should be suspended/revoked; and (3) asking everyone to report violators to the county’s COVID-19 hotline. On April 7, however, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted to limit Judge Jenkins’ authority to issue further emergency Orders without input from the court.
You can read our ASAP about the County’s initial Stay Home Order here.
On March 31, 2020, the Denton County Commissioners Court extended its Stay-at-Home Order through April 7, 2020. On April 7, the Order was again extended through April 30 to align with the governor’s Executive Order. Changes between the initial and subsequent Orders include the following:
- All public and private gatherings regardless of size are prohibited.
- Visiting nursing homes is prohibited.
- Use of public playground equipment is prohibited.
- Essential retail does not include furniture stores.
- Car dealerships showrooms should be closed. However, online sales and repair services are allowed.
- All golf courses in Denton County shall be closed.
- Outdoor clubs, including shooting ranges, shall be closed.
You can read our ASAP about the initial Denton County Order here.
On April 3, 2020, Judge B. Glen Whitley modified Tarrant County’s Stay-at-Home Order. The modified Order is intended to harmonize with similar orders issued by Governor Abbott and the mayors of cities within Tarrant County, including Fort Worth and Arlington. To that end, Tarrant County’s modified Order:
- Requires health care professionals to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not immediately medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient who without the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death. An exception is allowed if the procedure or surgery would not deplete hospital capacity or PPE needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster;
- Removes the price-gouging provision that capped the price for certain goods and services at whatever price was charged for those goods and services on March 16, 2020; and
- Removes local authority to commandeer or use private property for temporary housing or emergency shelters.
These modifications became effective on April 4 and continue through April 30—the same date on which Governor Abbott’s Executive Order is set to expire.
There is one glaring conflict between Governor Abbott’s Executive Order and the current Tarrant County Stay-at-Home Order—the prohibition on visitors to nursing homes. Nursing homes, state-supported living centers, assisted-living facilities and long-term care facilities across the State of Texas must now ban all visitors who do not provide critical assistance. The Tarrant County Order conflicted insomuch as it allowed end-of-life visitation; but even that type of visitation is now prohibited.
While that appears to be the only material conflict between Governor Abbott and Tarrant County’s orders, the Tarrant County Order is slightly more restrictive. For example, social distancing is required in Tarrant County while merely encouraged statewide. Similarly, the Tarrant County Order expressly addresses how it intends to enforce the order; the statewide Order is silent with regard to specific enforcement options.
On April 7, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price extended Fort Worth’s Stay Home Order through April 30 to align with the Orders issued by Tarrant County and the governor.
You can read our ASAP on the both the County’s and Fort Worth’s initial Orders here.
On April 4, 2020, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an amendment to her previously issued Stay Home, Work Safe Order. The amendment extended the Order’s effective date from April 3 through April 30 and includes the following changes to the definitions and examples of Essential Businesses:
- Critical Infrastructure is now defined to follow the updated guidance by the Department of Homeland Security issued March 28 (CISA 2.0) rather than the previous guidance referenced in the original Order.
- Essential Retail now refers to businesses that provide and support food and agriculture as well as businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home, in accordance with CISA 2.0.
- Car dealerships are now performing Essential Transportation, if they operate “to provide support of personal and commercial transportation services.”
Otherwise, the requirements in the County’s March 24 Order remain in effect. You can read our ASAP about this Order here.