Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Announces a “Stay Home Work Safe” Order To Take Effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 24

25 March 2020 Coronavirus Resource Center:Back to Business Blog
Authors: Scott D. Ellis Dania Abbasi

At a press conference yesterday morning, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a stay-at-home order that closed most businesses and instructed Harris County residents to stay at home. The order took effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 24 and will remain in effect through at least April 3. You can find the text of the order here.

Pursuant to the order, Harris County residents may only leave their homes to perform certain activities: trips to the grocery store, to obtain healthcare, to care for loved ones in a different household, and to engage in outdoor activities like exercise are permitted. All gatherings—of any number of people—occurring outside a single household are prohibited, save for a few narrow exceptions. 

The order directs restaurants and bars to continue operating only through takeout, delivery, or drive-through. Gyms, pools, salons, spas, shopping malls, and other similar facilities must close. Faith leaders are allowed to counsel in individual settings so long as everyone involved follows social distance protocols, but religious services may only be provided via video and teleconference. 

Except for businesses that the county deems “essential,” all businesses operating within the county face mandatory closure, unless their employees and contractors work exclusively from home. 

Essential businesses include:

  • Critical infrastructure, namely businesses falling within guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Government functions, including law enforcement, jail operations, and services provided by the City of Houston.
  • Healthcare, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, mental health providers, and other healthcare and research facilities.
  • Retail, including grocery, warehouse, and big box stores, liquor stores, and gas stations. Food production companies and business that deliver food to residences may also continue operating.  
  • Providers of necessities, including businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services to those in need.
  • Essential services needed to maintain residences and essential businesses, such as trash collection, mailing and shipping services, funeral homes, plumbers, electricians, maintenance crews, and caregivers who proved services to the elderly and disabled.
  • News media, including newspapers, TV, and radio.
  • Childcare and adult care services.
  • Infrastructure, development, operation, and construction, including maintenance and repair of public works, water, sewer, gas, oil refining, roads and highways, and internet and telecommunications systems. 
  • Transportation both public and private. Auto manufacturers and suppliers, car dealerships, highway maintenance, and taxi and rideshare services may continue operating.    
  • Labor union functions related to maintenance of funds and checking on the well-being of members. 
  • NASA and the Port of Houston.
  • Airports and related operations, including maintenance, repairs, and the hotels that serve these businesses.
  • Professional services, including legal, accounting, insurance, and real estate services, when those services are sought to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities or to further essential businesses, government functions, or critical infrastructure. 

Note that these examples and inclusions do not constitute an exhaustive list, which can only be found in the text of the order.

The order directs businesses that remain open to practice social distancing and stick to general disease control recommendations from public health authorities. Manufacturers who retool part of their businesses to produce ventilators and other necessary medical supplies can apply for an “essential business” exemption under the order, as can businesses that retool their operations to support essential services during the COVID-19 response. 

Local police will be prepared to enforce the order, with violations punishable through fines or jail time. In yesterday’s press conference, Hidalgo urged officers to use discretion, while also urging all residents to follow the rules—in all public circumstances, residents should stay six feet away from each other. Hidalgo said that the order’s directives are an effort to "stay ahead" of the spreading virus. "This is about the health of all of us—everybody's health is in each other's hands."

With a population over four million, Harris is the most populated county in Texas, and the third largest county in the United States. The number of reported cases in the area doubled between Thursday and Monday. As of Tuesday morning, there were 164 known cases of COVID-19 in the Houston area.

Foley will continue to monitor this developing situation and will update this alert as soon as more information is available.  For more information about recommended steps, please contact your Foley relationship partner. For additional web-based resources available to assist you in monitoring the spread of the coronavirus on a global basis, you may wish to visit the CDC and the World Health Organization

Foley has created a multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional team, which has prepared a wealth of topical client resources and is prepared to help our clients meet the legal and business challenges that the coronavirus outbreak is creating for stakeholders across a range of industries. Click here for Foley’s Coronavirus Resource Center to stay apprised of relevant developments, insights and resources to support your business during this challenging time. To receive this content directly in your inbox, click here and submit the form. 

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