Following Harris and Fort Bend counties' March 24 "Stay Home to Save Lives" orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Waller County has unveiled its own order, which County Judge Trey Duhon described as an order that balances social distancing, economic activity and constitutional freedoms.

At the March 25 regular meeting, Duhon presented a draft of the two-page order to the county commissioners, who also approved action to extend the county's declaration of local disaster for public health emergency until April 8, first signed March 18.

According to a press release, Duhon signed the order at 11:45 a.m., and the order will go into effect 11:59 p.m. March 25 through April 3.

“I spent the entire day yesterday [talking with county, state and regional leadership] trying to figure out a way how can we put an order together that emphasizes social distancing,” Duhon said at the meeting. “[An order] that puts the responsibility on our individuals and our businesses and our churches but also keeps the county open, allows people to stay employed and ... [is] sensitive to the Constitution.”

The order does not shut down any businesses, but it strongly encourages businesses to take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Duhon said.

“If you seriously are looking at a stay-at-home order or shutting the county down, which is another way to put it, you have to consider what kind of devastating impact that could have on a local economy,” Duhon said. “Because when you make these kinds of decisions, it will impact people. It will impact lives. People will lose jobs; people will not be able to make their bills; people will get foreclosed on.”

The order asks individuals to avoid social gatherings and groups of more than 10 people—with an exception: Nonsocial gatherings, such as workplaces or churches, can have more than 10 people so long as the room of the gathering has enough space to maintain 6 feet of space among individuals.

“What I'm trying to do here is, you have the 10-person rule, but then I also recognize the 10-person rule doesn't make sense in some situations,” Duhon said.

Duhon pointed out that unlike the other counties’ orders, Waller County’s order is enforceable.

“It means that the sheriff can walk into a facility ... [and] he can measure that wall and that wall, and he can divide," Duhon said. “And then he can say, ‘You have too many people in this room, you need to reduce the number of people, or you need to cancel.’ It's an ascertainable standard.”

Duhon said the order follows the governor’s own March 19 order; it prohibits eating and drinking at restaurants and bars while still allowing takeout, closes gyms, bans people from visiting nursing homes except for critical care and temporarily closes schools.

Ultimately, Duhon urged county residents to follow social distancing rules. Although the county did not have a positive coronavirus case at the time of the meeting, that will likely change soon.

“Maintain your distance. ... That's what this is really going to come down to,” he said. “It is about social distancing until something can be developed, until a vaccine is put on the market. Social distancing absolutely is the best way to keep yourself from getting this virus.”