Dallas County expected to order residents to “shelter-in-place” as coronavirus cases there spread

FILE PHOTO - Dallas, Texas

(Texas Tribune) – Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins was expected to issue a countywide shelter-in-place order on Sunday, marking the most expansive action yet from a Texas official to combat the new coronavirus continuing to spread across the state.

The "Stay Home Stay Safe" order, effective as of 11:59 p.m. on March 23, will continue through April 3. And it comes hours after Gov. Greg Abbott declined to issue a statewide shelter-in-place, though the state's top elected official noted he would applaud local leaders if they decided to take more sweeping actions for their jurisdictions.

Jenkins' order allows for people to leave their homes for outdoor walks and getting necessary items like groceries.

"All individuals currently living within Dallas County are ordered to shelter at their place of residence," the order reads. "For the purposes of this Order, residences include hotels, motels, shared rentals, and similar facilities. To the extent individuals are using shared or outdoor spaces, they must at all times as reasonably as possible maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person when they are outside their residence."

Dallas County is believed to have been the most affected area of the state for the coronavirus. Local health officials reported that 131 county residents have tested positive as of Sunday morning. The Texas State Department of Health Services reported 30 cases there as of noon Sunday. Abbott said that the state's numbers do not include "presumed positive" cases as an explanation for why DSHS' daily figures of positive cases in Texas have consistently lagged other disclosures and reports.

As the pandemic has continued to intensify, local officials have been calling on Abbott for a statewide shelter-in-place — which would extend beyond the executive order the governor issued Thursday. On Saturday, a group of officials from North Texas, including the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington, sent a letter to Abbott requesting he "consider a mandatory shelter-in-place" across the state. A number of health care executives also signed onto the letter.

On Sunday though, Abbott said "we need to see the level of effectiveness of [Thursday’s] executive order, noting that what “may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point of time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19.”