Non-essential businesses in Brazoria County must close by 6 p.m. Thursday and residents should only leave their homes for essential activities, Brazoria County Judge Matt Sebesta ordered.

The “Brazoria County Stay Safe at Home Order” will last through 11:59 p.m. April 3.

Violating the order could be prosecuted as a Class B misdemeanor, according to the Texas Health and Safety Code, District Attorney Jeri Yenne said.

The order allows people to leave their homes for “essential activities” or to provide “essential government functions.” During these activities, they must maintain social distancing “as reasonably as possible,” the order states.

The announcement of the order followed the county health department announcing five new cases Wednesday.

Those include a 75 to 85-year-old Pearland woman who is hospitalized in Houston.

The other positive tests returned Wednesday were for a Manvel woman in her 50s, a 55- to 65-year-old Pearland man, a Pearland man in his 20s and an Alvin man in his 30s, according to a county news release. Two of those patients are isolated at home while the status of the other two isn’t known.

Brazoria County now has 33 confirmed cases of the virus, which can cause severe respiratory problems, especially among susceptible groups such as senior citizens, diabetics and people with asthma.

The order defines essential businesses that may remain open, which follow Homeland Security Guidelines, Sebesta said.

“We didn’t just pick and choose businesses,” he said.

Essential businesses include healthcare, veterinary care, home-based care for seniors, adults and children, food cultivation operations, restaurants, laundry services, gas stations, automotive and bicycle businesses, hardware stores, mail and shipping services, real estate services, media, industrial plants and numerous others.

Non-essential businesses during a public health emergency include “barber shops, nail salons and hair salons. Spas, massage parlors, tanning salons, estheticians and related personal care businesses. Commercial amusement and entertainment establishments such as theaters or bowling alleys. Gyms, fitness classes and yoga and personal training facilities. Tattoo and piercing parlors. Residential meetings spaces and event centers. Hotel meeting spaces and ballrooms and outdoor plazas and markets,” the county judge said.

Any essential businesses that continue to operate should do so “in a smart way” to curb the spread of COVID-19, Sebesta said.

The county has had reports of workers continuing to congregate in meetings and lunch rooms, which needs to stop, County Public Health Services Director Cathy Sbrusch said.

“We need you to find alternative methods,” she said.

These actions are being taken in an effort to not overwhelm the healthcare system, allow manufacturers to catch up with the needed personal protective equipment, allow doctors to find the best course of treatment and allow the medical community to research and hopefully produce vaccines, Sebesta said.

The order prohibits public or private gatherings of any number of people outside a single residence.

If there is a gathering of people at a park, law enforcement’s first means of disbursement will be education, Yenne said.

“No one should be stopping anyone for just walking,” she said. “We know what we’re trying to prevent. We’re rational; we’re reasonable.”

If a restaurant is having a party with 30 people, that would be a problem, Yenne said.

“I will personally be handling these calls,” she said. “I anticipate a lot of them.”

Law enforcement will take action if needed, Yenne said. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

The county created a quick reference guide to the county order, and officers should help share that, Yenne said.

The order was made because the public must be protected, but citizens also must be respected, Yenne said.

“The law must be enforced and civil liberties must remain intact,” she said.

State and local leadership have acted in a way to try to keep restaurants in business, Yenne said. Right now, it is worth gaining a few pounds and eating take-out every night, she said.

“It’s a good sacrifice to eat the french fries right now,” Yenne said.

Hopefully the order will lessen the overall impact to the economy and community and shorten the duration of the event, Sebesta said.

Maddy McCarty is assistant managing editor for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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One would hope that liberties that need to be protected would include the free exercise of religion. Our duty to God was once considered an essential part of our country, that is, part of the essence of who we are as a nation. I would hope that even in our secularized, pluralistic evolution of a nation we will always maintain the liberty of serving God. The bishop in Church of this county Cardinal DiNardo, has already directed safe protocols to allow for this "essential" function to continue, protocols that do not allow for the spread of this virus. Other ministers have acted similarly. I would hope local officials will recognize that there is no threat, and much to gain, in allowing this essential part of the community to continue to minister to those in need.

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