Tuesday’s Kilgore City Council meeting included a discussion of Kilgore’s COVID-19 operations and response, as City Manager Josh Selleck briefed Mayor Ronnie Spradlin and council members on the city’s reaciton to the pandemic and planned gradual reopening.
“Things are starting to look more and more normal every day,” Selleck said.
“To some degree, that’s a bit concerning. I had a visit to Wal-Mart earlier today...while there, I noticed that I was one of the few people wearing a face mask. At this point, it’s still important for people to be protecting themselves.
“I’ve heard from a number of people that what may be most discouraging is that those people who might be most vulnerable are the ones who tend to not be necessarily protecting themselves.”
Selleck clarified the city was only relaying the recommendations sent down by Gov. Greg Abbott, not mandating specific behaviors for locals who choose to go out in public during the outbreak.
“We know that there is, first of all, the freedom to choose what you want to do as far as wearing a mask, going in public, etc. That said, if you are going in public, please try to protect your neighbors, your friends, your family and take whatever precautions you feel comfortable with as recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the governor.”
He also noted the city did not have the necessary governmental authority to dictate their own local guidelines or procedures for reopening non-essential businesses or returning to business as usual in city limits.
“Just so that the entire council is aware, the governor has retained for himself complete jurisdiction over all restrictions for COVID, so any local restrictions that we would desire to put in place are not allowed. I’m not saying that we desire any restrictions. We, maybe locally, would choose to open up a bit more freely and take advantage of the lesser spread that we’ve seen here as compared to some of the more urban areas. Again, I will point out that we don’t have the authority to really do anything in that regard.”
Selleck also allowed the city had made “a couple of errors in interpretation” in placing the governor’s recommendations at the local level.
For example, he noted, the governor had made comments indicating both hair and nail salons would not be allowed to reopen yet because their normal operations include direct person-to-person contact and an inability to avoid close proximity between customers and staff.
However, after Kilgore tanning salon owners contacted the city and city staff conducted extensive research of Abbott’s executive order, officials noted the order did not contain specific language regarding tanning salons. Therefore, Selleck said, tanning salons would be able to reopen locally using a 25 percent maximum occupancy rule.
“We stand by our interpretation. We don’t think anyone was harmed. (Tanning salons) are heavily cleaned and sanitized because of the nature of what they are anyway so they pose no threat or problem,” he said.
Selleck said other than the interpretation errors, the city’s response to the outbreak was going well.
“We heard very few complaints. We know there were some individuals in our community that have chosen not to abide by the governor’s recommendations...we recognize our role here is to help interpret and provide guidance where possible but from a governmental standpoint we’re trying to stand back as much as possible and allow people to either do the right thing or to take risks as they choose.”
ollowing questions from the council, Selleck noted that, as COVID-19 testing increases locally and restrictions are loosened, he expects to see a “bump” in confirmed diagnosis numbers. He also emphasized the need for the public to be vigilant in maintaining safe behaviors while in public.
“To the vast portion of our community the threats are minimal but those who are most vulnerable need to take this seriously.”