Dallas City Council Extends Disaster Declaration

Most city meetings to be video conferencing or postponed

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Dallas City Council Members extended the corona virus disaster declaration until April 29th at a special meeting Wednesday. Mayor Eric Johnson first issued the declaration last week.

The declaration initially called for limiting the size of public gatherings and was followed Monday by an order closing bars, restaurant dining rooms and many other business and city buildings to keep people apart.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins took the restrictions a step further Wednesday, asking that no public gathering of more than 10 people be held.

Most of the City Council Members were not in the room Wednesday as the city extension was considered.  The meeting was held with video conferencing and extreme spacing of chairs for visitors in the room.

“This is the social distancing that everyone needs to be practicing,” said Dr. Philip Huang, the Dallas County Health Director.

Huang said evidence shows corona virus is most easily transmitted by close contact with an infected person.

To justify an extension, the City Council heard from Huang and several other public officials, even though some infected individuals may exhibit little or no symptoms.

"With the social distancing, we’re trying to flatten the curve, slow this down so that it protects our most vulnerable populations," Huang said.

DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue told the City Council that long lines for international passenger screening like those seen last Saturday have been greatly reduced.  Donohue said airport traffic has dropped and rent reduction is being planned for airport concessionaires. He said a total of 10 people who have been transported from the airport with symptoms all tested negative for coronavirus.

Dallas Area Regional Transit Authority CEO Gary Thomas said extreme cleaning is underway for all transit vehicles. He said bus ridership has dropped 50% and DART rail ridership is down 25%. Some service reductions are being considered because of the decline in demand.

Representatives of several school districts that serve City of Dallas children told the Council that remote learning, student meals and worker pay are still being provided, even though classrooms are closed.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said take-home laptop computers were provided to many students, but about 40% of district families do not have internet access at home. He said school buses equipped as digital hot spots may be deployed in strategic locations to help address that problem.  

Dr. Huang said the Dallas County Health Department lab is now able to process 160 Corona Virus tests each day and larger scale testing should be available this week in parking lots at American Airlines Center and the Ellis Field House near I-20.

“It’s not just for anyone who thinks, ‘Hey, I think I’ve got Covid.’ You do have to have symptoms,” he said.

Huang said the number of confirmed cased is bound to increase as testing capacity grows.

With all the efforts to detect and avoid the spread of Corona Virus in Dallas County, Huang said he is disappointed that surrounding counties have not made the same choices.

“It’s frustrating when people are still gathering in bars,” he said. “It’s all of us together. It’s not magic how this is transmitted. We need to all work together. That’s how we’re going to be successful in addressing this.”

Huang said new research shows a patient should wait three days after coronavirus symptoms have cleared to no longer be considered recovered and no longer contagious.

City of Dallas officials are also considering measures to make do with far fewer workers if necessary. Temporary housing for homeless people has opened at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center because existing shelters were forced to reduce capacity and increase social distancing of guests. The city is examining other options for homeless people if corona virus cases impact homeless people.

The City Council temporary suspended most city meetings during the period of the disaster declaration.

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