The initial declaration signed March 11 was valid for seven days and activated the Harris County Emergency Management Plan. Hidalgo called the special meeting March 17 to extend the declaration and address related matters.
Today I've signed a public health disaster declaration for Harris County. We’ve also directed all county departments to prioritize COVID-19 prep/response over nonessential functions. Visit https://t.co/2ukVnamSjm for the latest pic.twitter.com/QLp4dyptjN
— Harris County Judge (@HarrisCoJudge) March 11, 2020
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle requested the judge extend the declaration to Tuesday, March 24, the date of the next regularly scheduled Commissioners Court meeting, to provide more time to evaluate the situation and to accept feedback from citizens and city mayors within the county.
“I would make a request that we extend the declaration until next Tuesday so that we have a chance to review some of the things that are in place, to debate it, to get public engagement,” he said. “I have a number of mayors that have been concerned and that have been contacting us that I think would like to be involved in the process.”
Ultimately, the court voted to approve extending the declaration to Wednesday, March 25. Hidalgo implied she intends to further extend the declaration at that time out of the best interest of the public.
“We’re right now at a point where we’re making tough decisions for the community, and I’m not trying to have a public political fight,” she said. “I do want to make the point, commissioner, [that] there’s lives on the line in this thing. We’ve got to stick together, and this is not the time to be whipping up political opposition.”
Harris County Budget Officer Bill Jackson said he believes the county will absorb the short-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak with minimal impact. While it is still too early to determine long-term effects of the virus, he said, the county has enough money on hand to get through nearly the entire year.
Jackson also mentioned that hurricane season is just around the corner, so COVID-19 may not be the last major event impacting Harris County financially this year.
“We’re working all throughout our departments to ensure that we are providing essential operations ... while also being safe,” Hidalgo said.