New Braunfels declares state of disaster; coronavirus measures extended until further notice

Tape was used on public seating to enforce social distancing during a City Council meeting March 24. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)
Tape was used on public seating to enforce social distancing during a City Council meeting March 24. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)

Tape was used on public seating to enforce social distancing during a City Council meeting March 24. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)

Social distancing measures were apparent at New Braunfels’ City Council meeting March 23. Council members were more spread out upon the dais than usual, with council member Shane Hines shifted over to City Manager Robert Camareno's usual seat to provide 6 feet between officials.

After a presentation by Camareno on the city's efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, the council voted as one to extend indefinitely the state of disaster declaration and the subsequent orders to close businesses and enact social distancing measures.

City Council or Mayor Barron Casteel will now be required to call an end to the disaster before the city can return to a normal state of being, rather than the order expiring at a given date. Gov. Greg Abbott's current order is set to last through April 21 but could be drawn out further.

Casteel said that City Council is relying on experts to inform their decisions on the matter.

"As council members, we don't have the level of preparation in disaster planning that city staff does," Casteel said. "We're getting good advice from medical and health care professionals. We're getting actual data."

As part of the city's disaster declaration, the mayor is designated as the city's emergency management director. If the city's heightened state persists, mayor elect Rusty Brockman would inherit the power to end the state of disaster in May when he takes office.

Additional powers vested in the mayor during a state of disaster include the power to take "any actions necessary to promote health and suppress disease, including quarantine, and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the City, and fining those who do not comply with the City's rules."

In addition to the four patients in Comal County diagnosed with coronavirus, there are another four confirmed cases in Guadalupe County, according to Camareno. One of Comal's patients was hospitalized in another county.

Camareno said city officials have been communicating with New Braunfels' hospitals and that the local health care system is prepared for patients.

"[As] with anyone else, there's limits to capacities and capabilities," Camareno said. "That's why it's important for our community to follow CDC recommendations—so that we don't overrun our health care systems."

Council Member Matthew Hoyt asked Camareno how the city would handle any potential natural disasters during the coronavirus outbreak. The city manager did not offer a detailed plan for such an occurrence but did claim that city services could handle such a situation.

"We are certainly prepared to respond if we do have a flood—if we do have a hurricane," Camareno answered. "My hope is that those will not occur during these [current] events because these are very difficult times for us."

The 2018-2019 Audit and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report was also presented at the meeting.

Despite a negative outlook due to restrictions on business and tourism, the report states that the city has enough cash reserves to operate for 144 days at its normal rate of expenditure without any income.

A video from the firm that completed the audit stated that it is typically recommended for cities to have enough cash on hand to operate for 60-90 days without cash flow.

The disaster declaration also empowers the city to seek reimbursement from federal and state organizations for expenses made while fighting the coronavirus outbreak—helping to offset the economic impact of the virus.

"We have a lot of ability, a lot of resources right now that we are essentially trying to mobilize into an effective use," Casteel said during the meeting. "We are doing everything we can to be prepared for every day."


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