The City of Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County issued local disaster declarations Thursday evening, opening up their abilities to obtain federal funding and buttress the statewide disaster declaration issued earlier in the day by Gov. Greg Abbott in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

While some individual organizations, including school districts and churches, and businesses had already undertaken their own measures to reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus and contracting the COVID-19 disease, Thursday's declarations by the state, county and city mandates certain closures and restrictions on public activities including restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, event centers and other businesses catering to the public. The restrictions also cover weddings, religious gatherings, parties, funerals, sporting events, social events and conferences as hospital and care center visitations.

Public and private gatherings and functions are limited to no more than 10 people present, with exceptions made for large building and offices as long as social distancing recommendations are followed and they are not in the same room or space.

The local declarations are in place for seven days, through midnight Friday, March 27, unless Mineral Wells City Council and Palo Pinto County Commissioners extend the disaster period for their respective entities – which is likely.

"We want to be sure that everybody understands that the actions we are taking are for the health and safety of our community," said Palo Pinto County Judge Shane Long. "I realize there are some inconveniences that come with that."

Long and Mineral Wells Mayor Tammy Underwood read their respective declarations in council chambers at the Mineral Wells City Hall Annex – attended only by them, City Manager Randy Criswell, Mineral Wells Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Chief Mike Pool and a member of the media. The readings and comments were streamed live on the Mineral Wells Index's Facebook page.

"We have some limited resources here but I want to reassure everyone that the resources we do have are adequate for our needs right now," said Long. "Our emergency management coordinators for the city and also the county are working very diligently to make sure everything is supplied and that we have the resources that we need to continue to provide for the health and safety of our community."

Local and county officials have conducted daily conference calls to share and provide information. In some cases officials are involved in statewide calls, such as one Underwood participated in Thursday with the governor's office.

Mineral Wells officials held back issuing a disaster declaration earlier in the week because there were not yet any confirmed or presumptive cases of the virus in the county or an adjacent county. However, once Gov. Abbott implemented a statewide disaster plan, Underwood said the decision was made to go forward with a local disaster declaration.

There are still no local or area cases reported or confirmed.

"I would just like to make a plea to our citizens to abide by this proclamation," Underwood stated. "This did not come easy for the leadership of the county and the city but we believe that it's time. Everyone has to do their own part. So please don't be defiant about what these rules are. The quicker that we all abide by this and stop the spread, the quicker we can get back to life as we know it and love it. So I just ask that every individual do your part and take care of yourself, your family and your neighbor."

City officials on Tuesday closed non-essential facilities and suspended some services.

The city's disaster declaration includes several steps and protocols such as authorization to "temporarily or permanently acquire by lease, purchase, or other means sites required for installation of temporary housing units or emergency shelters for disaster victims; and (2) enter into arrangements necessary to prepare or equip the sites to use the housing units or shelters, including arrangements for the purchase of temporary housing units or shelters and the payment of transportation charges."

It also provides for the establishment of quarantine rules if necessary. Also local private, public or commercial labs are ordered to report daily any positive COVID-19 test results.

All city boards and commissions are suspended unless authorized by the city manager to meet.

The city also is suspending utility service terminations for non-payment through the disaster period. Those amounts will still be owed and customers will need to make arrangements to pay those bills to avoid termination once the emergency declaration is lifted.

Violations of the city's orders under the disaster declaration are subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.

"We can get through this, we can weather this storm if we all work together," Underwood said. "Don't make us have to enforce it because we will. That is how important this is, and so we ask that you not put us in that position. But if you do put us in that position we are ready to enforce it."

Anyone with questions or concerns, or to report activity they believe is in violation of the orders, can contact Judge Long's office at 940-659-1253, or the Mineral Wells City Hall at 940-328-7700.

Copies of the declarations can be found online at the county's website at http://www.co.palo-pinto.tx.us/ and the city's homepage https://www.mineralwellstx.gov/.

Long said he has been in communication with officials with other municipalities in the county and he said all are supportive with the actions taken.

"We have contemplated this for several days and in communication with each other and conference calls," said Long. "This was not an easy decision to make."

Pool said the best scenario would be for residents to look back and think the steps taken were an over-reaction because nothing happened. That would mean the measures and precautions were effective and prevented a local health crisis.

"That's what we want, nothing to happen" Pool said. "But everybody has to work together."

For information and tips for prevention: COVID-19 Prevention tips please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/

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