Texas is taking a localized approach in trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since Monday, March 23, 2020, county and city governments from some of Texas’s largest metropolitan areas have issued “stay home-work safe” orders. This includes Dallas County, Harris County (where Houston is located), and Travis County (where Austin is located).

Each of the three orders affecting Dallas, Houston, and Austin allow “Essential Businesses” to remain open. While each order has a slightly different definition of “Essential Businesses,” all three orders include in their definitions of essential businesses the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). “Non-essential businesses” are allowed to continue operations on a limited basis in varying degrees under each of the three orders. More detail on each of the orders is below.

For specific information on your city or business, employers should review the relevant order and its impact with the assistance of counsel to determine whether their operations are “Essential Businesses.” Determining whether your operations are essential businesses is highly fact specific, and companies should exercise caution when making that determination. Those businesses deemed “non-essential” should also consult their attorneys to assess next steps allowed under the applicable order.

Dallas County

On March 23, 2020, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a revised amended order (the Dallas County Order) directing all individuals currently living within Dallas County to shelter at their place of residence. The Dallas County Order took effect on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 11.59 p.m. (CT) and lasts through Friday, April 3, 2020 at 11.59 p.m. (CT), the time at which the Dallas County Commissioners Court’s Declaration of Local Disaster expires. If the Dallas County Commissioners Court extends the Declaration of Local Disaster (which seems likely), Judge Jenkins will be authorized to extend the Dallas County Order beyond April 3.

Under the Dallas County Order, all businesses operating in Dallas County, except “Essential Businesses” must cease all activities at facilities located in the County. These “non-essential” businesses may continue operations only through utilization of employees working from home. “Essential Businesses,” which are permitted to continue to operate, include:

  • Essential healthcare operations
    • Hospitals, clinics, dentists, and mental health providers
    • Pharmacies
  • Essential government functions
  • Essential critical infrastructure
    • Public works, residential, and commercial construction
    • Airport operations
    • Water, sewer, gas, electrical, internet, and telecommunications systems
    • Roads and highways
    • Public transportation
    • Financial institutions
  • Essential retail
    • Grocery and warehouse stores
    • Liquor stores
    • Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation
    • Laundry service providers
    • Businesses that ship or deliver food or goods directly to residences
    • Restaurants (for consumption off-premises only)
    • Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
  • Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
  • Essential services necessary to maintain essential operations of residences or essential businesses
    • Mail and shipping services
    • Trash and recycling collection, processing, and disposal
    • Funeral services
    • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers
  • News media
  • Public and private education institutions performing essential functions or to facilitate distance learning

Additionally, childcare facilities may remain open, subject to mandatory conditions, to provide services for individuals working for essential businesses. Childcare facilities that remain open must be carried on in groups of 12 or fewer of the same children each day. Children may not change groups nor can the childcare providers. If a facility has more than one group, each group must be in a separate room.

The entire list of essential businesses and operations are described further in the Dallas County Order, available here.

Essential businesses that remain in operation must, to the greatest extent possible, comply with the order’s social distancing guidelines, which include:

  • Maintaining six-foot social distancing for both employees and the general public
  • Ensuring employees take steps to minimize exposure risks, such as washing hands for 20 seconds, coughing or sneezing into a tissue then discarding the tissue, and avoiding touching their face
  • Suspending non-essential employee travel
  • Urging employees to stay home when sick and maximizing telecommuting options
  • Maximizing flexibility in sick leave benefits

To the extent possible, essential retail establishments shall follow the additional guidelines below:

  • Designate shopping times for at-risk populations (seniors, pregnant people, and people with underlying health conditions)
  • Limit the number of people in a store at once so that social distancing is possible
  • Implement an organized line system where people are spaced at least a few feet apart (ideally six feet)
  • Implement purchase limits on high-demand items (toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer)
  • Offer pick up or deliveries of grocery items

Additionally, the Dallas County Order states that owners, managers, or operators of any business or facility likely to be impacted by the order are strongly encouraged to post of copy of the order onsite and to provide a copy of the order to the public when requested.

Harris County

On March 24, 2020, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued the “Stay Home-Work Safe Order” (the Harris County Order) directing all individuals living in Harris County to stay home except for essential activities. The Harris County Order took effect on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 11.59 p.m. (CT) and currently lasts through Friday, April 3, 2020 at 11.59 p.m.

Under the Harris County Order, all businesses operating in Harris County, except “Essential Businesses,” must cease all activities at facilities located in the county. These “non-essential” businesses may continue operations only through utilization of employees working from home. “Essential Businesses,” which are permitted to continue operations, include:

  • Essential critical infrastructure as identified by CISA
  • Essential government functions and essential City of Houston government functions
  • Essential healthcare operations
    • Hospitals, clinics, dentists, mental health providers, laboratory services
    • Pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies
    • Veterinary services
  • Essential retail
    • Grocery and warehouse stores
    • Liquor stores
    • Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation
    • Laundry service providers
    • Businesses that ship or deliver food or goods directly to residences
    • Restaurants (for consumption off-premises only)
    • Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home
  • Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
  • Essential services necessary to maintain essential operations of residences or essential businesses
    • Mail and shipping services
    • Trash and recycling collection, processing, and disposal
    • Funeral services
  • News media
  • Childcare services for employees of essential businesses
  • Infrastructure, development, operation, and construction
    • Public works, residential, and commercial construction
    • Airport operations
    • Water, sewer, gas, electrical, internet, and telecommunications systems
    • Roads and highways
    • Public transportation
    • Oil refining
  • Transportation
    • Vehicle manufactures, car dealerships, and maintenance and repair facilitates
    • Vehicles for hiring, including Uber, Lyft, and taxicabs
  • Labor union functions
  • NASA, Port of Houston, airports, and related operations
  • Professional services including legal, accounting, insurance, and real estate services

The entire list of essential businesses and operations are described further in the Harris County Order, available here.

The following infection control precautions apply to all essential businesses:

  • Practice social distancing, requiring patrons and employees to be separated by six feet, to the extent feasible
  • Provide access to hand washing facilities with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol
  • Post a conspicuous sign at the public entrance letting members of the public know not to enter if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness
  • Adhere to the general communicable disease control recommendations by public health authoritiesAny law enforcement agency based in Harris County is authorized to enforce the Harris County Order, and failure to comply with the order is punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00 or confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 180 days.

Travis County

On March 24, 2020, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt issued an order (the Travis County Order) directing all individuals currently living within Travis County to shelter at their place of residence. The Travis County Order took effect on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 at 11.59 p.m. (CT) and currently lasts through Monday, April 13, 2020 at 11.59 p.m.

Under the Travis County Order, all businesses or operations with a facility in Travis County, except “Essential Businesses” must cease all activities except “Minimum Basic Operations.” Under the Travis County Order, minimum basic operations are limited to the minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of a business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or related functions. Additionally, these “non-essential” businesses may continue operations only through utilization of employees working from home. “Essential Businesses,” which are permitted to continue to operate, include:

  • Healthcare operations
    • Hospitals, laboratory services, clinics, dentists, and mental health providers
    • Pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies
    • Veterinary services
  • Stores that sell groceries and essential supplies
    • Supermarkets, big-box stores, convenience stores, liquor stores
  • Providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations
  • News media
  • Businesses needed for transportation
    • Gas stations, car dealerships, auto-supply and repair, and auto-manufacturing
  • Financial institutions
    • Banks and credit unions, consumer lenders, pawnshops, insurance companies
  • Hardware and supply stores
  • Critical trades
    • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and pool cleaners
  • Mail and delivery services
  • Restaurants for consumption of premises
    • Restaurants (for delivery or carry out only)
    • Schools that typically provide free food services to students (on a takeaway basis only)
  • Businesses that provide supplies to enable work from home
  • Food delivery services
  • Transportation
    • Taxis, Uber, and Lyft to provide transportation for essential activities and essential businesses
  • Professional services
    • Legal, accounting, insurance, and real estate services
  • Information technology services
  • Businesses that provide residential and/or commercial moving services
  • Funeral services
  • Education institutions
    • For purposes of facilitating distance learning and performing critical research

Additionally, childcare facilities may remain open, subject to mandatory conditions, to provide services for individuals working for essential businesses. To the extent possible, child care facilities that remain open must be carried on in groups of 10 or fewer of the same children each day. Children may not change groups nor can the childcare providers. If a facility has more than one group, each group must be in a separate room.

The entire list of essential businesses and operations are described further in the Travis County Order, available here.

Essential businesses that remain in operation must comply, to the greatest extent possible, with the Travis County Order’s social distancing guidelines, which include:

  • Maintaining six-foot social distancing for both employees and the general public
  • Ensuring employees take steps to minimize exposure risks such as washing hands for 20 seconds, coughing or sneezing into a tissue then discarding the tissue, and avoiding touching their face
  • Suspending non-essential employee travel
  • Urging employees to stay home when sick and maximizing telecommuting options
  • Maximizing flexibility in sick leave benefits
  • Staggering employees’ schedules so not all employees are present at one time
  • Ensuring any queuing inside or outside the business can maintain six feet of separation between customers

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and liquor stores that remain in operation must:

  • Establish controls to require a minimum of six feet of distance between patrons in lines both inside and outside stores
  • Increase the use and capability of drive-thru, curbside or delivery services
  • Limit the number of customers permitted in a store at one time
  • Minimize the number of employees working within six feet of each other
  • Provide hand washing capabilities, hand sanitizers, and tissues
  • Frequently clean high-touch surface areas

The Travis County Order also includes a number of recommendations and requirements for employers with personnel in a sector identified by CISA as being “Essential Critical Infrastructure.”

The Travis County Sheriff’s Office, the Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office, and other peace officers are authorized to enforce the order. A violation may be punishable through criminal or civil enforcement. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or confinement in jail for up to 180 days.