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Dallas City Council extends disaster declaration until April 29

The decision gives city leader more control to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Credit: WFAA
Dallas City Council special meeting

Updated at 7:28 p.m. with Dallas City Council vote. 

Dallas City Council has voted to extend the city's disaster declaration until April 29. 

Mayor Eric Johnson asked City Council members to consider leaving the declaration in place indefinitely while local leaders work to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

There have been 39 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Dallas County. Many of those people are Dallas residents and didn't travel or know where they contracted the disease. 

Johnson issued the disaster declaration last week. The measure is typically used after a natural disaster. 

"COVID-19 is not like anything the City of Dallas has faced in modern history," Johnson said Wednesday. 

He said decisions have to be made "every couple of hours" and that it's unclear how long the problem will continue. 

As part of the disaster declaration, city leaders mandated the closure of all gyms, bars, restaurants and theaters. Restaurants can still serve takeout but dining rooms must remain closed. 

The measure has also limited social gatherings as part of an effort to get people to socially distance from one another. 

Several council members expressed concern with the mayor's original motion to extend the disaster declaration indefinitely. They said they wanted to be able to reassess it later. 

Council Member Omar Narvaez said city leaders need to take the disease seriously because of how quickly it's spreading. 

"We are in a war with something we cannot see," Narvaez said.

The extended declaration will be in place until 11:59 p.m. April 29. 

The council members were asked to remote into the meeting in order to practice the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. 

DFW Airport officials, DART officials and four school superintendents also spoke at the meeting before council members voted. 

School districts

Dallas School Superintendent Mike Hinojosa said he is heartbroken that a Dallas student tested positive for COVID-19. He said he is working with the family. 

Hinojosa also addressed concerns regarding internet and food access for children during this time. 

He said 40% of students do not have internet access, so the district is working on solutions that could include asking the City for hotspots. Teachers are also being instructed to communicate with students at least once a week. 

In addition, Hinojosa announced that secondary campuses will be open Mondays and Thursdays for students to pick up three days worth of meals.  

Lastly, Hinojosa said the district does not have a plan at this time in regards to graduation ceremonies. 

Superintendents from Cedar Hill, Plano and Richarson were also in attendance and said they are working on plans regarding online learning and meals for students. 

Transportation

DFW Airport officials also stated they ramped up their cleaning efforts in January, prior to school closures in North Texas. 

They also confirmed of transporting 10 people at one point who thought they might have novel coronavirus, but all results came back negative. 

DART officials were also at the meeting said they are continuing to deep clean busses, however, there has been a big drop in passengers. 

Officials say at this time, they are not waving fees for passengers. 

Health officials

The meeting resumed around 2 p.m.,Dr. Philip Huang, Director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, then shared his concerns regarding the increase in COVID-19 cases. 

“As of the numbers increase, we will increase social distancing," he said.

Huang said social distancing is a key component in fighting the disease. 

“The vulnerable population is the most important to protect, stay home and away from other people,” he said.

Next steps

There was also discussion about the next steps for the community of Dallas:

  • Testing sites for healthcare works, first responders and at-risk population
  • Temporary accommodations for exposed first responders
  • Additional testing locations AAC parking lot E and Ellis Davis Field House on Polk St
  • Parkland Hosptial already has a drive-thru site available as of March 16
  • The transition of convention center shelter to other temporary shelter sites, possibly trailers
  •  Adjusting the Dallas Police Department service response, possibly asking citizens to use the online system

The council is expected to vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to extend the declaration of local disaster for Dallas. 

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