The city of Seguin has joined several other cities in acknowledging the danger of the coronavirus situation.
Mayor Don Keil signed a declaration of local disaster for public health emergency Tuesday night in response to anticipated needs surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s declaration makes the city eligible to seek emergency assistance, according to a written statement released Wednesday from the mayor’s office.
“We believe the changes we are taking today strike the difficult balance between maintaining basic operations while lessening the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus,” Keil said. “As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, I want our citizens to know we take this public health threat seriously and are taking appropriate actions.”
Across the country and in Texas, government entities are taking steps against a coronavirus that causes COVID-19, a respiratory illness leading to severe, flu-like symptoms in many people across the world and sometimes death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended people practice social distancing, steering clear of gatherings of more than a few people and not getting close to or touching others. The CDC also recommends vigorous hand washing and other preventative measures to help limit exposure to the virus.
Both President Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have issued national and state emergency declarations allowing federal and state assistance to areas affected by COVID-19 as it continues to impact the country. Such declarations help federal, state and local governments in securing supplies, equipment and funding to respond to and recover from emergencies, the mayor’s statement read.
Seguin is taking preventative measures in response to the spread of COVID-19 in Central Texas, it read.
“This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and we will remain vigilant as we deal with this challenging issue,” Keil said. “Please continue to do what you can to keep yourself and your family healthy, and we’ll do what we can do as your local government to help responsibly prevent the spread of infection.”
The disaster declaration lasts up to a week from the date Keil enacted it unless City Council votes to extend it, according to the declaration.
The declaration allows the city to take actions such as “quarantine, examining and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the city, and fining those who do not comply with the city’s rules,” the document read.
In the declaration, Keil determined that for no more than 30 days, it is in the city’s best interest to restrict all gatherings to 50 people or fewer.
While the city’s parks will remain open a majority of the time, they will close Easter weekend as a way to prevent large groups of people gathering in one area, a release from the city said.
“In an effort to meet the CDC’s recommendation to cancel or postpone community gatherings of 50 or more people, all city parks will be closed Easter weekend (April 10, 11 & 12, 2020),” the release said.
The pavilions, athletic facilities in city parks and Seguin Events Complex are closed. The city plans to refund facility bookings impacted by the closures.
The splash pad in Park West will also be closed.
Other moves the city made in addition to the emergency declaration include:
the extended closure of the Seguin Public Library until further notice;
city’s municipal court dockets, court trails, court appearances and jury duty are canceled through April;
all sports leagues — Little League, Seguin Youth Soccer League, All Youth Sports League, and Seguin Volleyball League are suspended until further notice;
Starcke Park Golf Course will remain open;
City Hall is open, but community members are asked to call or email to speak with city staff.
The disaster declaration gives the city a tool to help prevent the spread of the virus, City Attorney Andrew Quittner said.
“It gives staff the ability, for example, to close the park for Easter if this is still ongoing where you would have crowds of people everyday of the weekend if the weather is good,” Quittner said. “It strongly recommends that other people in the city do the same thing.”
The declaration also sets up Seguin to try to recoup possibly from Texas funds the city spends battling and preventing the virus, said Greg Dreiss, Seguin’s emergency management coordinator.
“What this declaration does is positions us to be ready for the virus when it makes its way to the city of Seguin,” he said. “It positions us so we’re more prepared for it. It allows us to start tracking the expenses so hopefully we’ll be able to get reimbursement from the state once this is over.”
People shouldn’t panic and should know that the virus is not here yet, Dreiss said. The declaration just means city officials will be ready when the virus comes to town, he said.
With that knowledge and armed with the declaration, city officials set measures in place to try to limit exposure, Dreiss said.
“It’s still preparation, not panic,” he said. “We want them to be prepared for it but not panic about it.”
City Council needs to ratify the declaration if city leaders want it to extend beyond seven days and would need to call an emergency meeting to do so, Quittner said.