Stephenville’s holds Virtual Town Hall to answer various questions regarding COVID-19

Stephenville hosted a town hall meeting to discuss concerns of COVID-19.

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Stephenville hosted a town hall meeting to discuss concerns of COVID-19.

On March 23, 2020, Stephenville Officials holds Virtual Town Hall for the citizens of Stephenville to answer various questions regarding the City’s response to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Under the need to maintain Social Distancing, this Virtual Town Hall was accessible to residents online and all questions were submitted digitally, rather than having residents physically be at City Hall to give their questions. This town hall included both the City Manager and Assistant City Manager and both the Chief of the Stephenville Police Department and the Chief of the Stephenville Fire Department.

Opening the Visual Town Hall, City Manager Allen Barnes announced the first confirmed case of corona virus in Erath County. “It is our understanding the resident is a resident of Erath County and is in self-quarantine in their home,” said Barnes, “They are not a resident of Stephenville but they do live in Erath County.”

Assistant City Manager Jason King assures the public that this should not be a cause for panic.

“We expected to start getting results like this,” said King. He advises that residents should continue to follow the guidelines placed by Federal, State and City to ensure their safety as the situation continues.

Chief Dan M. Harris Jr. of the Stephenville Police Department made mention that the Stephenville Police Officers will continue to serve and protect their city. He only asks that the public be patient and flexible at this time.

“The men and women of this great police department stand ready to protect you,” said Harris, “It’s all hands on deck for us.”

Chief Jimmy Chew of the Stephenville Fire Department added that the Fire Department has reached out to all their connections to ensure that the needs for Fire and Emergency Medical Services continue to be met.

“We have been talking to the hospitals and our local partners as far as EMS and fire services here to make sure we can meet the needs of our community,” said Chew.

A question raised included how first responders would respond to a medical emergency outside of those relating to COVID-19. Chew responded to this by reassuring that EMS would treat such emergencies as they had before. Chew also mentioned that some individual may fear that local hospitals would become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and is grateful to the residents for maintaining their health and safety and keeping the hospital from becoming overwhelmed as a result.

With Federal, State, and now City Emergency Declaration stating that there are to not be gatherings of more than 10 people, residents asked if and how would Stephenville PD enforce that rule. Harris responded that this will be handled diplomatically and with compassion and understanding. He also said that no Stephenville officer wants to have to enforce the rule and issue penalties for such, but that it is a necessity to ensure the wellbeing of the city and its residents. Harris asked that residents work with Stephenville officers to ensure that any gathering does not exceed 10 people for the sake of their wellbeing.

Many other cities throughout the country are either moving or have moved to a Shelter in Place to ensure that the virus does not spread any further. Questions were raised if the City of Stephenville would move towards the same action. King responded to this by stating that Stephenville would continue to operate under the guidelines from The State of Texas and the

Declaration of Public Health Emergency passed by the city council. King does say that the City Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the current situation further. In the event a Shelter in Place is to be passed, it will come from either the Mayor of Stephenville or from the Erath County Judge. While both have the authority to make this call, King says that it is one that will not be taken without consideration from city and county officials.

A question that came up was that if there was a plan in place in the event that Stephenville first responders would be overwhelmed with multiple emergencies across the city. Chew was first to respond and said that he has spoken with EMS and Fire Services for Erath County and in the City of Dublin and confirmed that they would assist in tackling any emergency situation if Stephenville EMS was overwhelmed. Chew also said that Stephenville EMS would also respond to emergencies outside of the city if Erath County or Dublin EMS became overwhelmed.

Harris also responded to a similar question by stating that Stephenville PD is fully staffed and will continue to respond to all emergencies. In the event that they may become overwhelmed, Harris said that he reached an agreement with the Chiefs of Police for Tarleton and Dublin Police Department, as well as the Sheriff from the Erath Country Sheriff’s Department, and officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety that they would provide assistance to Stephenville.

While Stephenville PD will continue to operate, a resident did raise the question if there would be enhanced penalties for offenders. Harris confirmed that all criminal cases, from misdemeanors to felonies would be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law but would also be subjected to enhanced penalties.

While EMS, fire and Police will continue to operate, a resident asked if first responders will respond to emergencies while wearing Personal Protective Equipment. Chew’s response was that dispatchers would ask additional questions to individuals calling an emergency to help determine if PPE would be necessary when responding. That being said, Chew added that responders do

have PPE on hand and may respond while wearing it if they feel it is absolutely necessary when they arrive. Chew reassures residents that the use of PPE by first responders is for the purpose of protecting both responders and residents.

Other questions included whether childcare services in town would continue to operate. This question could not be answered at the current Virtual Town Hall, but the city council would meet on March 25 to potentially make that decision, among others. Another question included if testing for the virus will soon be required for all residents. The response was that there is an increasing need for such test in Stephenville, but that the demand did not exceed the current supply. Another question was whether city officials would require Tarleton State University to limit of close their doors to limit the spread of the virus. The answer was that the university was considered a superior entity and that the City cannot make or enforce such a decision, but only the university itself, with guidance and notions from the Texas A&M University System and the State of Texas. Another question asked was if the Stephenville Fire department was fully staffed. The response was that the department was meeting the minimum requirement to maintain complete operation.

The Virtual Town Hall was concluded with many questions answered but others still left unanswered. Barnes announced that there are plans to host future Virtual Town Halls as the current situation remains. These Virtual Town Halls will allow city officials to update residents on the developing situation while answering questions from concerned residents. These questions can be forwarded to the City Secretary Staci King at [email protected]