By Trey McDonald
On March 24, 2020, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, set to take effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24 and running until 11:59 p.m. on April 3, unless extended. The Stay Home, Work Safe order generally requires Houston and Harris County residents to remain at their residence except when engaged in Essential Activities, working for Essential Businesses, or performing Essential Governmental services. Harris County residents who leave their residence must reasonably comply with social distancing guidelines, such as maintaining a distance of at least six feet from any other person.
The Order also suspends all delivery hour restrictions for transport to or from any entity involved in the selling or distribution of food products, medicine, or medical supplies or equipment in Harris County for the next sixty (60) days.
City and County officials have advised that if an activity or business is not essential or exempted, the activity and/or business is not permitted. Those who do not comply with the order could face a fine not to exceed $1,000.00 or up to 180 days in jail.
Harris County residents may leave home for the following exempted activities:
- Health and Safety Activities: Activities or tasks essential to the health and safety of the individual or their family or household members and pets (including in another household) (e.g., obtaining medical supplies or medication, visiting a healthcare professional, or obtaining supplies needed to work from home).
- Necessary Supplies: Activity to obtain or purchase necessary services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members and pets or to deliver to others (e.g., obtaining food, pet supply, and other household consumer products and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and operation of residences).
- Outdoor Activity: Outdoor activities, as long as all involved maintain six feet of social distancing (e.g., walking, biking, hiking, or running).
- Work for Essential Businesses: Performing work or services for Essential Businesses or perform Essential Governmental services.
All public or private gatherings outside a single household or single-family living unit are prohibited unless specifically exempted. All religious worship services must continue via video and teleconference. Religious institutions must limit in-person staff to those necessary for preparing for or conducting the video of teleconference worship service. But religious leaders may minister and counsel in individual settings while adhering to social distancing requirements.
Restaurants, bars, micro-breweries, micro-distilleries, wineries and other establishments that serve food may only serve food and/or alcohol by take-out, delivery, or drive-through services and adhere to social distancing requirements for any food preparation, waiting area, or queue. This restriction does not apply to cafes and restaurants located within hospitals and medical facilities.
ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES AND ESSENTIAL GOVERNMENTAL FUNCTIONS
The Order generally defines Essential Businesses to include:
- Essential Critical Infrastructure: Work necessary to the operations and maintenance of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). For more information and guidance regarding these critical sectors, please visit the CISA website.
- Essential Government Functions: All services provided by local governments and municipalities located in Harris County needed to ensure their continuing operation to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the public, including law enforcement, jail operations, and other services. Nothing in this Order shall prohibit any individual from performing “Essential Government Functions.”
- Essential City of Houston Government Functions: All services provided by the City of Houston that the mayor determines to be Essential Government Functions.
- Essential Healthcare Operations: Businesses that provide or deliver healthcare services, including:
- Hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers, mental health providers, substance abuse service providers, blood banks, medical research, laboratory services, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services.
- Home-based and residential-based care for seniors, adults, or children.
- Providers of veterinary care and other health and welfare services for animals.
- This exemption shall be viewed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of healthcare.
- Essential Retail:
- Food producers and service providers, including grocery stores, warehouse stores, furniture suppliers, big box stores, bodegas, liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores, farmers’ markets that sell food products and household staples.
- Businesses engaged in food cultivation, including farming, ranching, fishing, and livestock.
- Businesses engaged in food production, including the production of canned goods, bottled beverages, and other grocery items.
- Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences.
- Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive-through, or carry-out.
- Schools and other entities that typically provide free services to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only.
- Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers.
- Gas stations, auto supply, auto and bicycle repair, hardware stores, and related facilities.
- Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home.
- Providers of Basic Necessities to Economically Disadvantaged Populations: Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.
- Essential Services Necessary to Maintain Essential Operations of Residences or Other Essential Businesses:
- Trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal, mail and shipping services, building cleaning, maintenance and security, warehouse/distribution and fulfillment, storage for essential businesses, funeral homes, crematoriums, and cemeteries.
- Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, yard and maintenance crews, housekeepers, janitorial staff, pool cleaners, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences and Essential Businesses.
- Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities.
- Businesses that supply other Essential Businesses with support or utilities needed to operate.
- Caregivers and helpers who provide services to seniors and disabled individuals.
- News Media: Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services.
- Childcare and Adult Care Services: Childcare and adult care facilities providing services to employees of Essential Businesses exempted by this Order.
- Nursing homes, retirement, and long-term care facilities must prohibit nonessential visitors unless to provide critical assistance or for end-of-life visitation.
- Infrastructure, Development, Operation and Construction: For example, public works construction, construction of housing, or other types of construction including commercial, manufacturing, airport operations and aircraft manufacturing, maintenance or repair, water, sewer, gas, electrical, oil refining, roads and highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet, and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services).
- Transportation: Businesses related to the operation, maintenance, construction, and manufacture of transportation services, including:
- Vehicle manufacturers, automotive suppliers and parts departments, car dealerships, parts distributors, maintenance, and repair facilities.
- Public transportation;
- Businesses supporting airport operations;
- Street and highway maintenance and construction;
- Gas stations and other fuel distribution businesses;
- Vehicles for hire, including public transportation services, Uber, Lyft, and taxicabs, that enable persons to travel to or from employers, service providers, or businesses exempted in this Order.
- Labor Union Functions: Critical labor union functions, including the maintenance of health and welfare funds and checking on the well-being and safety of members.
- NASA and Port of Houston: Activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Port of Houston.
- Airports and related operations: Airport and airline activities, operations, maintenance and repairs, and the hotels that serve these Essential Businesses.
- Professional services: Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, insurances services, and “real estate services” when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities or to further Essential Businesses, Essential Government functions, or Critical Infrastructure.
The Order also requires Essential Businesses to comply with the following:
- practice social distancing by requiring patrons, visitors, and employees to be separated by six (6) feet, to the extent feasible;
- provide access to hand washing facilities with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol;
- post a sign in a conspicuous place at the public entrance to the venue instructing members of the public not to enter if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough; and
- adhere to other general communicable disease control recommendations by public health authorities.
Businesses that are not considered Essential Businesses may apply for an exemption if that business retools a substantial part of their business in order to manufacture and produce ventilators, personal protective equipment, or other medical supplies. Businesses that retool or amend their operations to support Essential Services during the COVID-19 response may also apply for an exemption.
To be eligible for an exemption, a business must submit an application here with evidence that the continuing operations of the business or industry are essential to promoting the general welfare of the residents of Harris County and the State of Texas during the COVID-19 response.
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Houston partner William “Trey” A.I. McDonald III practices media litigation, trademark and copyright litigation, and complex commercial litigation with a focus on First Amendment, defamation, false advertising, and Lanham Act claims. In addition to his practice, Trey serves on the University of Texas School of Law Young Alumni Steering Committee, the OneGoal Houston young professional board, and the Sweat Equity Group board of directors.
Please note: This article and any resources presented on the Jackson Walker Coronavirus microsite do not constitute legal or medical advice.