* Editor's note: This story was updated to include more information about a prediction Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins shared about the amount of deaths that could be prevented by a shelter-in-place order.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued 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 said he expected his authority to keep the order in place would extend beyond April 3, if necessary. He said that if Abbott issues a statewide order, the number of deaths would be reduced from hundreds of thousands to mere thousands over a three month period, citing the model from a website called covidactnow.org. The model was created by a group software engineers — not public health experts or epidemiologists — who want political leaders to act quickly to stop the virus from spreading, but medical officials from the area have rallied around the model as credible and worthy of taking action on.
Dallas County's order is intended to keep hospitals from exceeding their capacity of COVID-19 patients and to "minimize the catastrophic outcomes" seen in other countries, Jenkins said at a press conference Sunday.
"We are headed to a point of no return if we continue to dawdle," he said. "This is larger than Dallas County, so I implore [Abbott] to reconsider" a statewide order.
Jenkins' order allows for people to leave their homes for outdoor walks, getting necessary items like medicine and groceries, and to care for sick relatives, but otherwise must stay in their households. Businesses that do not provide essential services cannot continue to operate from their facilities, and instead employees must work from home, if possible.
"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."
Essential businesses, including hospitals, senior residential centers and childcare for those employees, may continue in-person operations. They are still required to keep six feet of distance among employees and with members of the public, if necessary. As Texans continue to clear grocery stores of hand sanitizer and food, Jenkins stressed that grocery stores will continue to be open and accessible.
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 Department of State 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."
Two Dallas-area Democrats, state Reps. Victoria Neave and Chris Turner, praised Jenkins' move in statements Sunday after the news.
Neave, who co-chairs the Dallas County delegation, called the order "our best bet to flatten the curve and manage the riding threat this disease presents to each and every person in our county."
And Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said, "Jenkins' decisive leadership will save lives" and called on Abbott to reconsider his position on a statewide stay-at-home directive.
“Texas hospital leaders have asked Governor Abbott for a statewide stay-at-home order, as have a bipartisan group of mayors," Turner said. "I hope Gov. Abbott will follow the advice of the health care experts who are on the front lines and enact such an order – until then, I am confident that local leaders in many Texas communities will continue making difficult but necessary decisions to protect public health, as Judge Jenkins did today.”