State, county, local officials: Just stay home - Disasters declared

by By Cristin Parker

UPDATED: 8:47 a.m., Wednesday, March 25

As of Tuesday, March 24, the state of Texas and Cherokee County aren’t on lockdown because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), but it’s a pretty thin line, according to emergency management and health officials.

Cherokee County Emergency Management Coordinator Sergio Servin updated Cherokee County commissioners during Monday, March 23's commissioners court meeting. As of Tuesday, March 24 there have been 715 confirmed cases in 65 counties across Texas, with 17 confirmed cases in neighboring counties – 14 in Smith County; two in Rusk County; and one in Gregg County. Statewide there have been 11 deaths contributed to the virus.

A total 28 tests for the virus have been conducted in Cherokee County with all being cleared. As of Wednesday, March 25 there continues to be zero confirmed cases in Cherokee County.

“The CDC and the DHSH establishes the criteria for who will be tested," Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis stated in an earlier interview. "If and when a positive result is reported, we will immediately notify you.”

The Court on Monday also adopted a resolution to continue the Public Health Emergency declaration. The resolution is to take effect for no more than 120 days, but can be rescinded prior to the 120-day limit.

Governor Greg Abbott on Monday, March 23 sent a letter to President Trump requesting a presidential declaration of a major disaster in Texas based on the continued impact of COVID-19. This action follows on the heels of a series of proactive measures, including declaring a state of disaster for all 254 Texas counties on Friday, March 13.

“Texas is all-in on our response to COVID-19 and we need Washington’s financial assistance as provided for under the law to support our efforts to limit the spread of this virus,” Abbott said in a release. “COVID-19-related expenses and obligations are already exceeding $50 million and that will only rise as our efforts continue. Additional federal funding is essential for us to maintain our aggressive course of action to protect our state.”

Abbott’s letter detailed the state’s efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, in accordance with guidelines from Trump’s office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as executing the state’s emergency management plan and issuing multiple executive orders, including:

• mandatory avoidance of social gatherings of more than 10 people;

• mandatory avoidance of dine-in eating and drinking at bars or restaurants, and patronage of gyms or massage establishments;

• prohibition on non-critical visits to nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities; and

• the temporary closure of in-person school operations.

On Thursday, March 19, DSHS Commissioner John W. Hellerstedt made an official declaration of a public health disaster in the state of Texas.

“I do hearby certify that the introduction and spread of the communicable disease known as COVID-19 in the state of Texas has created an immediate threat, poses a high risk of death to a large number of people and creates a substantial risk of public exposure because of the disease’s method of transmission and evidence that there is community spread in Texas,” Hellerstedt stated.

In accordance of Sec. 81.002 of the Texas State Health and Safety Code, the DSHS mandates “each person shall act responsibly to prevent and control communicable disease.”

These actions, taken immediately, will reduce the spread of COVID-19:

• People who are ill, especially those with symptoms consistent with influenza or COVID-19, should isolate themselves at home until they recover. Such persons should only present for medical evaluation and treatments if their symptoms are such that they cannot continue to be cared for in their homes. When seeking medical care, patients should call their doctor or healthcare facility before arriving so they can prepare.

• Limit trips into the public to essential outings only. Traveling to work, the grocery store, the pharmacy or to seek medical care would be considered essential trips.

• Limit as much as possible close contact with other people. Stay six feet away.

“Adherence to these rules and the sound public health principles that support them will provide optimal protection for the people of Texas,” Hellerstedt stated in the declaration. “These measures are necessary to advance the health and safety of all.”

To date, more than 466 Texas jurisdictions have submitted local disaster declarations, a number that is expected to rise.

Prompted by recent Public Health Emergency Declarations concerning neighboring cities and counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19, officials with the city of Rusk on Friday, March 20 published its own public health notice.

“It is important to note that, at the time of this notice, the city of Rusk does not have any confirmed or suspected cases,” the notice states. “However, with nearby cases being confirmed in adjacent counties and municipalities, the city of Rusk must act accordingly to ensure the public’s health and safety. … It is also important that everyone remain calm and limit public exposure as much as possible.”

Effective Tuesday, March 24, Rusk City Hall has closed to the public until further notice. Staff will still be available by phone, (903) 683-2213 or (903) 683-2677. Anyone needing emergency personnel can still call 9-1-1.

“These proactive measures have been taken by the city to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in conjunction with the statewide public health disaster issued by Gov. Abbot,” Rusk City Manager Jim Dunaway said. “The city is going to continue to monitor the situation, and work with our partners during this unprecedented situation.”

The city of Rusk has closed facilities that provide non-essential services to public gatherings until Tuesday, March 31. This includes the Rusk Public Library and its meeting room, the Rusk Civic Center, Jim Hogg Park, Conley Park, Butler Park, and the Lions Club Sports Complex. The city of Rusk also postponed the city-wide Spring Clean-up Day scheduled for April 4 to the fall.

In an effort to help keep people safe, numerous other entities across the county have closed or altered their hours of operation.

“Cherokee County wishes to fully comply with any orders issued by the Governor,” Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis stated in a letter to county citizens published Friday, March 20.

Effective Tuesday, March 24, all county offices are closed to the public for unscheduled in-person services, until further notice.

“All Cherokee County government offices remain open for scheduled in-person appointments, as well as by phone, by mail and online,” county officials said in a statement released Tuesday. “Citizens requiring in-person services may schedule an appointment by contacting the appropriate department.”

Visit the county’s website, for contact information.

Offices of the County Elections Department and the County AgriLife Extension Agency are closed to the public, but will be staffed as usual. All essential services, such as the Sheriff’s Office and the Emergency Management office will operate as usual.
Effective Monday, March 23, the Cherokee County Appraisal District had closed its lobby to the public. CCAD officials encourage citizens to call the office (903) 683-2296; or visit the CCAD website,, to access services.

“We will be monitoring this situation on a week by week basis,” Chief Appraiser Lee Flowers said.

Taxpayers can mail tax payments and other documents to be filed to PO Box 494, Rusk, TX 75785; call (877) 891-9389 to pay with a credit/debit card or electronic check; or use the drop slot located to the right of the entrance door.

The office of the Rusk Rural Water Supply Corporation has closed to the public until further notice. Payments can be made via the overnight drop box; online at; or by phone, (844) 653-2257. Customers can call the office, (903) 683-6178 with questions or concerns.

Alto City Hall has been closed to the public. The drive through, phone lines, and the city’s website remain open.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause,” city officials said. “The safety of our citizens and staff are our top priority. The city of Alto will post updates as they are available. Thank you for your cooperation.”

On March 20, Bullard's Mayor Pam Frederick issued a declaration of Local State of Disaster due to Public Health Emergency through the end of April.

"This declaration authorizes the city to take any actions necessary to promote health and suppress the virus, including the quarantine of persons and occupied structures, examining and regulating hospitals, regulating ingress and egress from the city and occupied structures, and insuring compliance for those who do not comply with the city's rules," the declaration states. Bullard City Hall is closed to the public until further notice. Anyone needing assistance can call the city hall.

Cuney City Hall closed to public until further notice.

The city of Jacksonville closed all city offices to public access, except for the Jacksonville Police Department lobby, until further notice.

Residents are encouraged to make any payments to the city via online or telephone. Court and utilities payment can be made at Appointments with individual employees will take place at the discretion of individuals involved in the meeting. All drop boxes are operational.

Other Jacksonville city facilities closed to the public include the Norman Activity Center, the Vanishing Texana Museum, Love’s Lookout Visitors Center, the Jacksonville (Stacy D. Hunter) Recreation Center, the Jacksonville sports complex and the Jacksonville Public Library.

“These proactive measures have been taken by the city to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.” Jacksonville City Manager Greg Smith said. “The city is going to continue to monitor the situation, and work with our partners during this unprecedented situation.”

Lake Jacksonville is not affected by this closure.

New Summerfield City Hall has closed to the public until further notice. Customers are urged to pay online at; pay via telephone, (903) 726-3651; or use the drop box located in the front door. Court fines may also be paid online.

Wells City Hall is closed to the public. The employees will be in the office to take phone calls. Traffic citations and water bills can be paid at, or by using the drop box located on the front corner of city hall.

Rube Sessions Memorial Library in Wells has closed until Tuesday, March 31.