Distance meeting

County commissioners Mark Harkness, left, Robin Dawley and Sandy McCorvey keep their distance during a Tuesday regular meeting of the court. Commissioners voted to extended the county’s disaster declaration indefinitely.

A good six feet separated the eight people who gathered Tuesday in the Commissioners Courtroom, where County Judge Greg Sowell called the regular meeting to order.

“We’ve got a little different seating arrangement — Mr. (Commissioner Jerry Don) Williamson is in his office joining us by telephone,” he said. “The fewer people we can keep in this courtroom, the better off we are. We’re meeting because it’s law.”

In an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott last week granted a request from the Texas Attorney General to suspend some open-meeting statutes — temporarily allowing governmental bodies to meet by telephone or video conference instead of the usual requirement that they be physically present.

“The last time we were in this room, we thought we were making a big decision that was over the rodeo,” Sowell reflected. “Things have gotten a lot bigger since then.”

Commissioners voted unanimously to extend Nacogdoches County’s disaster declaration until the county judge or commissioners court deems the emergency is over.

“We have not dealt with this type of situation in my lifetime,” Sowell said. “I don’t believe anyone has. We’re seeing things and doing things that haven’t been done in over 100 years.”

Sowell said he does not know how many people in Nacogdoches County have been tested for COVID-19.

“I do know that if anyone receives a positive test result, that it’s law that the Texas Department of State Health Services be notified. At that point we will be notified that we have an active case. As of (Tuesday) morning, the closest case we have that has been confirmed is in Rusk County to our north.”

Nacogdoches County does not currently have a shelter in place order issued.

“What we need to do now as a community is to obey what’s out there right now,” he said. “No amount of legislation or law that’s out there can force people to use good sense.”

This includes staying home unless absolutely necessary to go out and curbing panic — including overbuying at grocery stores.

“There are more restrictive orders that can come down, but right now, let’s do what we’re supposed to do,” Sowell says. “We are still at zero. Is (the virus) here? I don’t know. Are the numbers skewed? I’m sure they are. Do we have a confirmed case from the Texas Department of State Health Services in this county? No.”

During the meeting, commissioners accepted the results of an annual comprehensive audit by Whitley Penn, an outside firm that will give a presentation on the audit at a later meeting.

“It is not to be taken lightly at all,” Sowell said of the report. “We’re assured by the auditors there are no problems with it. It is available for your review.”

Also approved was a contract with Genoa Healthcare for pharmaceutical services at the county jail.

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