Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston

Anderson County Commissioners voted Monday to indefinitely extend County Judge Robert Johnston’s COVID-19 state of disaster declaration.

The original declaration of a public health disaster, issued Thursday, remained in effect for only seven days. Johnston may cancel the ratified declaration when COVID-19 is no longer considered a threat.

The judge can also amend the declaration. The amendment is good for only seven days. The court would have to ratify any amendment to make it a long-term declaration.

On Monday, Palestine Mayor Steve Presley issued a 12-day state of disaster for the city. City council members may terminate, continue, or renew the declaration.

Presley’s declaration activates the city’s emergency management plan.

City hall closed to the public Friday, with all business conducted online or over the phone.

The county’s declaration limits gatherings to 10 people, until further notice. A “gathering” refers to a scheduled event or common endeavor where 10 persons are present in a confined space, room or area, including churches and funerals.

Moreover, the county may take any action necessary to suppress the virus, including quarantines, examining hospitals, regulating exits and entrances to and from Anderson County, and establishing quarantine stations.

Any person who knowingly violates this declaration commits an offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, and up to six months in jail.

The Anderson County Annex building remains open.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order Sunday to help the state’s health care industry increase hospital bed and staffing capacities as more case of COVID-19 are reported daily.

Texas has reported more than 350 cases of the coronavirus, including six deaths.

Abbott’s order expands hospital capacity by permitting more than one patient per room. He also waived regulations to allow graduate nurses and vocational nurses to have temporary permit extensions, without taking the state licensing exam.

Retired and inactive nurses can also quickly reactivate their permits to return to work; permits for out-of-state nurses will be fast-tracked.

Abbott's executive order Thursday, among other things, directed health care professionals to postpone all elective surgeries that were not medically necessary to preserve the life of the patient, keeping beds available for people in need of urgent care.

That order also closed gyms and banned gatherings of 10 or more, as well as entering restaurants and bars.

The order gave Texas quarantine authority, but Abbott said he would exercise it only if necessary.

Abbott’s order also prohibited visits to nursing homes or retirement centers, unless for critical assistance; it closed all schools temporarily.

Shopping in grocery stores or gas stations, or visits to parks and banks are permitted.

Abbott praised the public Sunday for complying with the order barring gatherings of more than 10 people. Still, Abbott said he could not say when students will return to classrooms.

He urged everyone to continue to stay home, if possible, and practice social distancing.

COVID-19 first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then, it has spread to 50 countries, prompting the World Health Organization this month to declare a pandemic.

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