The Woodlands Township board of directors led off their April 2 special meeting with a discussion of the local responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough also attended the first portion of the meeting, which was held via video conference and livestreamed on the township website.

After providing the latest coronavirus case numbers reported by the Montgomery County Public Health District, Keough spoke about his development of a series of orders related to public gatherings and business closures, which were released throughout March.

Keough issued his first order declaring a public health emergency in the county and limiting public events of 250 people or more March 12. That document was followed by additional orders that lowered the recommended public gathering limit and closed a variety of nonessential businesses and dine-in restaurant operations. Then, in late March, Keough issued a stay-at-home order, which included a nightly curfew.

Keough said he developed his orders to combat the spread of the coronavirus with an emphasis on protecting residents’ civil liberties. He also said the Montgomery County order was written to clarify issues related to the Second Amendment and religious gatherings that nearby counties did not include in their similar orders last month. Keough said his guidance complies with the statewide order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott in late March and with a notice about religious gatherings released by Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton April 1.

“We have gone over both those orders with our attorneys, ... and it seems we are all on the same page,” Keough said. “There still are some discrepancies outside of our area, but I know of none within the area where there is an issue as it relates to whatever particular religion you may have or the liturgy that is associated with your particular religion. We really have tried very hard at protecting the civil liberties of everybody while at the same time covering the issue of the virus.”

Keough also said the county and local hospitals are planning for a peak in coronavirus cases and health care resource capacity that could occur within the next two weeks. That local surge is expected to come ahead of a statewide peak in early May that has been projected by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

“We’re planning for a surge that’s going to happen mid-month,” Keough said. “We are working with our local hospitals because we need to know their surge plan. ... Our job is to be prepared so that when this surge comes, we’re able to help with what we need to help with.”

Director Brian Boniface also asked Keough to provide an update on the county’s coronavirus testing capacity. Keough said the establishment of a countywide public testing site is unlikely given the county’s lack of available tests, although local hospitals and other health care providers are providing testing for patients exhibiting certain symptoms.

“We had already talked to the Conroe Independent School District. We had made every effort to put together everything we needed to put together a testing station over at Woodforest Stadium. ... We just didn't have what we needed to in order to put it in place at that time,” he said.

Keough noted that Montgomery County residents are allowed to go through the free public testing process now available in Harris County. He said Montgomery County may also be receiving faster-performing tests in the coming weeks for local health care providers, although testing supply issues could delay their delivery.

“Even though we have paid for them, what we’re finding is that all this activity is creating such a backlog of things that even in the tests that we have ordered, we’re still waiting and they get put off,” Keough said. “We’re hearing that they get put off again, and they get put off again. And so I don’t want to give people false hope on that.”

After Keough left the meeting, Director Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the board’s public health liaison, shared further updates on the regional coronavirus response. She also said the number of cases and deaths is expected to rise for the foreseeable future and noted the ongoing shortages in medical supplies being experienced by some health care providers in the region.

“There are beginning to be shortages of personal protective equipment in the Harris County and the Montgomery County areas. And that’s a fluid situation. They get deliveries, and then, shortages are abated, and then, they use up the supplies, and they’re needed,” she said. “We want to get ahead of these potential shortages because they can occur quickly, and they can affect our health care professionals as well as first responders.”

Later in the meeting, the township announced the launch of the Help Our Heroes program, which will provide a location for biweekly PPE donations in The Woodlands for distribution by the county.