Now that “stay-at-home” orders are expected to last at least a month — or more — compliance could prove difficult for some people.
Gov. Greg Abbott imposed significant restrictions on Texans through the end of the month to slow the spread of COVID-19. The city of Denton announced midweek that city facilities are closed through May 4 and that residents are subject to the state’s and county’s orders until further notice. In other words, the end date for “stay-at-home” orders remains a moving target.
“Stay at home” means you can go out only to get food and health care or take care of an essential need, such as fixing a plumbing leak or helping a loved one. Businesses that meet those essential needs can remain open with certain restrictions. Critical employees at those essential businesses can travel to and from the workplace. You can get out and exercise, with some limits.
Cheating those orders comes at a big cost. Here are the answers to the top five questions you need to know about the consequences.
What’s the harm in getting together with friends or family members if no one is sick?
Let’s get two things on the table right away. One, Mother Nature is an effective, efficient killing machine. Two, the county’s order prohibits both public and private gatherings of people outside a single household.
People can be contagious without showing any symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, scientists say. You, a friend or loved one could be a Trojan horse of illness as you meet for coffee, cards or a pickup game of basketball. A choir rehearsal in Washington, a funeral in Georgia and a church revival in Kentucky have yielded intense, deadly clusters of COVID-19 infections. (In those cases, some health experts suspect singing helped spread the virus. Singing is particularly effective at creating the fine spray to carry viruses.)
Researchers at the University of Texas are running computer models on social distancing — school and business closures, stay-at-home orders and the like — to see the effect on virus spread in major Texas cities. This is important because when too many people get sick too fast, hospitals could be forced to ration care. The models show success in various degrees of social distancing, from none to 90% reduced contacts, on virus spread. Other models have shown that even a little cheating makes social distancing far less effective.
The UT models anticipate that without any distancing (or with enough cheating) COVID-19 infections could peak in the Dallas-Fort Worth region with 1.5 million cases by mid-May. At 90% reduction in social contacts, our distancing can keep that regional number below 500,000, with it slowly peaking in mid-August.
Is that why the city boarded up the basketball nets?
Yes. The city of Denton first closed rec centers and children’s playgrounds in mid-March to help slow the spread. After the stay-at-home orders were issued, the parks staff evaluated other equipment and facilities knowing some could either attract social gatherings or be a source of contamination, said city spokesman Ryan Adams.
In addition, the city received a few complaints of groups playing basketball in city parks.
“Temporarily removing tennis court nets or taping off playgrounds was the best way to communicate on an ongoing basis that these facilities were closed and should not be used,” Adams said in an email.
For now, residents can still visit the parks and use the trails to go for a walk or bike ride but should keep a healthy distance from one another.
Should I call if I see something — at my workplace, a nonessential business or a party at the apartment next door?
Yes. Residents can submit complaints against nonessential businesses that are still open through the Engage Denton application. This keeps Denton police available to respond to emergencies.
Enforcement for business compliance is conducted by the city’s code enforcement officers, health inspectors and zoning enforcement officers. Denton police spokeswoman Allison Beckwith said police would help if necessary.
To report non-business violations, you can call the temporary Denton police emergency line at 940-349-8173. However, Beckwith said it’s better to report through Engage Denton since callers are being referred to the app.
There are no specific standards related to COVID-19 with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor. But other federal workplace safety standards may apply. Look for reporting information on the employee bulletin board at your workplace (federal law requires the postings) or online at osha.gov.
Can I really get a ticket?
Yes, if necessary. Denton County officials and law enforcement officials said the intent from the beginning has been to educate businesses and individuals. So far, no residents or businesses have been cited for violations.
Dawn Cobb, the county’s director of community relations, said in an email Friday that each law enforcement agency in the county has the discretion to act if they deem it necessary.
Enforcement action could be a citation up to $500, or a Class B misdemeanor that would include a fine up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.
Are police and sheriff’s deputies pulling people over just to ask why they are out?
No. The stay-at-home order authorizes any peace officer in Denton County to enforce it, but both the Denton County Sheriff’s Office and the Denton Police Department said they won’t stop motorists without a probable cause to ask drivers if they’re abiding by the stay-at-home order.
Enforcement in Denton would come largely through the city’s code enforcement officers, with Denton police assisting if needed.
Critical employees don’t need any identification from either their employer, or any level of government, to prove they are such.