On March 24, 2020, Lina Hidalgo, County Judge for Harris County, Texas, issued a “Stay Home, Work Safe” Order in effect through April 3rd, 2020. The shortest possible explanation of this order is that it restricts leaving home except for only “Essential Activities.”
Unlike Texas Governor’s Order affecting Texas as a whole, this Harris County “Stay at home, Work Safe” Order applies only to individuals currently living within Harris County. Thus, if you don’t reside in Harris County, this order does not legally apply to you. If you do not know whether you reside in Harris County, for example, you may be wanting to self-isolate at your beach house, but haven’t gotten there yet? This is an area open for dispute and covered more in the linked article related to “Essential Activities.” Note this order does exclude homeless people, thereby permitting them to remain in public but still subject to the requirement 6 feet of social distancing from members of the public.
In one sentence, ALL FUN HAS BEEN CANCELED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Harris County’s “Stay at Home, Work Safe” Order is also substantially more restrictive than Texas Governor Abbots Order. General media has indicated that Governor Abbott wanted to leave the substantial restrictions to the county on an “as-needed” basis dictated by each county’s COVID-19 current circumstances. Subject to various exceptions, in short, Harris Counties Order shuts down essentially all business within the county except for narrowly defined essential businesses, all food, except for delivery or take-out, all public gatherings, all sport recreations facilities, all the stuff we like (hair, nails, movies, bars, theatres, malls, etc.), and even limits religion to electronic communication only.
The sliver of non-restriction lies in “essential” activities and businesses. Engaging in these is really the only way to know you are lawfully leaving your home. Unfortunately, as usual in law, what is “essential” is not always clear. Harris County has provided 16 essential business, and 5 essential activities.
The Essential Businesses listed are as follows: ** Note that all “Essential Businesses” are subject to compliance with social distancing requirements of six feet to the extent possible.
1. Essential Critical Infrastructure. Work necessary to the operations and maintenance of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Cyber security and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), provided that they carry out those services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements of six feet to the extent possible.
2. Essential Government Functions. All services provided by local governments and municipalities located in Harris County needed to ensure their continuing operation to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public, including law enforcement, jail operations and other services. Further, nothing in this Order shall prohibit any individual from performing “Essential Government Functions”.
3. Essential City of Houston Government Functions. All services provided by the City of Houston that the Mayor of the City of Houston determines to be essential Government Functions. Further, nothing in this Order shall prohibit any individual from performing “Essential Government Functions”.
4. Essential Healthcare Operations. Healthcare operations, including hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, other healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers, mental health providers, substance abuse service providers, blood banks, medical research, laboratory services, or any related and/or ancillary healthcare services. Home-based and residential-based care for seniors, adults, or children are also considered healthcare operations. Healthcare operations also include veterinary care and all health and welfare services provided to animals. This exemption shall be viewed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of healthcare.
5. Essential Retail. Food producers and service providers, including grocery stores, warehouse stores, furniture suppliers, big box stores, bodegas, liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores, farmers’ markets that sell food products and household staples. Food cultivation, including farming, ranching, fishing, and livestock. Food production, including the production of canned goods, bottled beverages and other grocery items. Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences. Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive-thru or carry-out. Schools and other entities that typically provide free services to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only. The restriction of delivery or carry-out does not apply to cafes and restaurants located within hospital and medical facilities. Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers. Gas stations, auto supply, auto and bicycle repair, hardware stores, and related facilities. Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home.
6. Providers of Basic Necessities to Economically Disadvantaged Populations. Businesses that provide food, shelter, social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.
7. Essential Services Necessary to Maintain Essential Operations of Residences or Other Essential Businesses. Trash and recycling collection, processing and disposal, mail and shipping services, building cleaning, maintenance and security, warehouse/distribution and fulfillment, storage for essential businesses, funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries. Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, yard and maintenance crews, housekeepers, janitorial staff, pool cleaners and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences and Essential Businesses. Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities. Businesses that supply other Essential Businesses with support or utilities needed to operate. Caregivers and helpers who provide services to seniors and disabled individuals.
8. News Media. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services.
9. Childcare and Adult Care Services. Childcare and adult care facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in this Order to work as permitted.
10. Infrastructure, Development, Operation and Construction. For example, public works construction, construction of housing or other types of construction including commercial, manufacturing, airport operations and aircraft manufacturing, maintenance or repair, water, sewer, gas, electrical, oil refining, roads and highways, public transpot1ation, solid waste collection and removal, internet, and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services).
11. Transportation. Businesses related to the operation, maintenance, construction, and manufacture of transportation services. For example, (a) vehicle manufacturers, automotive suppliers and parts departments, car dealerships, parts distributors, maintenance and repair facilities; (b) public transportation; (c) businesses supporting airport operations; (d) street and highway maintenance and construction; (e) gas stations and other fuel distribution businesses; (f) vehicles for hire, including public transportation services, Uber, Lyft, and taxicabs, that enable persons to travel to or from employers, service providers, or businesses exempted in this Order. People riding on public transit must comply with the six-foot social distancing requirements to the greatest extent feasible.
12. Labor union functions. Critical labor union functions, including Labor union functions. Critical labor union functions, including the maintenance of health and welfare funds and checking on the well-being and safety of members.
13. NASA and Port of Houston. Activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Port of Houston.
14. Airports and related operations. Airport and airline activities, operations, maintenance and repairs, and the hotels that serve these Essential Businesses.
15. Professional services. Professional services, such as legal or accounting services, insurances services, and “real estate services” when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities or to further Essential Businesses, Essential Government functions, or Critical Infrastructure.