Anderson County Judge Robert Johnson said he's not taking directives from the Trump Administration on local protocol for the COVID-19-related health emergency.
In a speech Tuesday that contradicted most national public health experts, President Donald Trump said he'd like to loosen social distancing restrictions and get Americans back to work by Easter Sunday on April 12.
Among other things, social distancing means avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and staying at least six feet from other people.
“Even if they [Trump administration officials] do loosen restrictions, they have no authority over this county,” Johnston told the Herald-Press Friday. “Personally, I don't believe we'll see it turn around by Easter. Until the Centers for Disease Control say we're through, we will continue.”
On March 19, Johnston declared a state of emergency for Anderson County. Monday, the declaration was extended indefinitely.
“Like most rural areas, we're not a hot-spot, so we're the last to get tests,” Johnston said. “We're just going to have to make smart decisions.”
Palestine Mayor Steve Presley, who Monday issued a 12-day disaster declaration, agreed.
“This is a medical emergency,” Presley told the Herald-Press. “We're listening to the CDC and the Department of Health, not to politicians.”
Information on containing a novel virus will continue to change, Presley said. “Treatments will update and change,” he said. “As we learn more, how we react is changing, moment to moment.”
Former Palestine mayor Dr. Carolyn Salter, Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative, told the Herald-Press that no one with medical training in infectious disease would recommend easing restrictions by next month.
“Trump's training is in business,” she said. “I wouldn't listen to an MBA for my medical training, and neither should you.”
Dr. Salter said the President was right to give most of the decision-making authority to local governments. She said Johnston and Presley are doing what's right for residents.
“The local response to an emergency is always the primary response,” she said. “The way it is being handled at the local level in Anderson County is completely appropriate.”
Salter said church-goers should ignore any advise to eases restrictions before Easter.
“If people break social distancing and go to church Easter Sunday, it will get worse,” she said.