By Tracy R. Mesler
© 2020 The Nocona News
Local law enforcement will be on the front lines in enforcing Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders regarding the Covid-19 health emergency including barring “in-store” dining at local restaurants and “mass gatherings” to no more than 10 individuals.
Nocona Police Chief Kent Holcomb, referring to handouts provided by the governor’s office, noted “Chapter 81 of the Health and Safety Code provides various criminal offenses for failure to comply with requirements applicable to communicable diseases.”
Thursday Gov. Abbott issued orders with four major restrictions (and more could be coming in the next few days):
–“…every person in Texas shall avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”
–“…people shall avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts, or visiting gyms or massage parlors.” (The exception being the use of drive-through, pick-up or delivery services for food.)
–“…people shall not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.”
— and “In accordance with Guidelines from the President and the DCD schools shall temporarily close.”
In legal parlance, the word “shall” mean the actions are mandatory, not optional, the chief noted leaving no doubt as to how his department will be addressing non-compliance.
Chief Holcomb said his officers would be charged with insuring residents of Nocona comply with these provisions, but he noted in his discussion with the owners of local eating establishments all were prepared to provide take-out services in their hopes of helping retard the spread of the communicable disease.
The chief said the city’s four convenience stores function as both “gas stations” and “grocery stores” and as such could, as he currently understood it Thursday, remain open. But, he stressed, he had not seen anything from the state on how to handle situations where, as is the case in Nocona, there are tables and chairs for dine-in.
“I guess they just can’t have people staying there eating,” he said adding that was his recommendation to the owners.
“This is all new to us, we’ll just have to figure this out as we go,” Chief Holcomb added.
All stores, churches and public buildings will be subject to the 10-person occupancy limitation which may require store operators to manage how many customers and staff are in the facility at one time,” the chief said.
Those restrictions will also apply to meetings of the Montague County Commissioner’s Court as well as the city councils of Nocona, Bowie and Saint Jo, the boards for the Nocona Hospital District and the seven school districts.
Those bodies, when they meet, will have to implement new tele-video public meeting provisions issued earlier this week by Gov. Abbott.
Chief Holcomb added one other note of warning, under the state of emergency the punishment for several categories of criminal offenses increases.
That means for the offenses of assault, arson, robbery, burglary, burglary of coin operated or coin collection machines, burglary of vehicles, criminal tress pass and theft step up.
In other words, a Class B misdemeanor would now be a Class A, a Class A misdemeanor would be a State Jail Felony, a State Jail Felony would be a Third Degree Felony, a Third Degree now a Second Degree and a Second Degree now a First Degree.
According to the handout provided to the Chief by the state, Chapter 81 of the Health and Safety Code also makes it a criminal violation to:
–fail to report a reportable disease or health condition
–concealing a communicable disease or exposure to a communicable disease
–refusing or attempting to refuse entry or inspection to a health department, health authority, o0r peace officer on presentation of a valid search warrant.
–refusals to comply with a rule, order or instruction relating to quarantines.
–refusal to perform certain control measures ordered by a health authority.
–removal, alteration, destruction of a quarantine device, notice, or security item.
–transporting into this state an object, individual, person, animal, or object that may be a carrier of the communicable disease.
–release of certain test results.
Chief Holcomb said he has instructed his officers to conduct as much of their business “by phone as possible” limiting their face-to-face exposure as much as possible.