Following a discussion that lasted more than four hours and at times broke into disagreement, a sharply-divided Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday voted 3-2 to establish a “stay home, stay safe” shelter-in-place order for the next 10 days to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Commissioners Randy Stinson and Kyle Butler voted in support, with commissioners Lane Grayson and Paul Perry voting no. County Judge Todd Little cast the tie-breaking vote to issue the order.

Ellis County joins a growing number of other counties in North Texas issuing similar orders in the absence of a statewide order.

As a result of the order, all individuals currently living within Ellis County are ordered to shelter at their place of residence. All residents must as reasonable as possible maintain social distancing of at least six feet apart when outside their residence. Nursing homes, retirement and long-term care facilities must prohibit non-essential visitors unless to provide critical assistance or end-of-life visitation.

Residents may leave their homes only to engage in activities or perform tasks essential to health and safety, such as obtaining medical supplies or medication, food, pet supplies, or to work at an essential business. There are exceptions in the order allowing restaurants to stay open for drive-thru or take-out service.

The declaration goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night and will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 3 unless extended by the Commissioners Court or rescinded by Judge Little.

As of Tuesday, there were eight confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ellis County, with another 20 patients being monitored.

At one point, Little and Commissioner Perry entered into a vigorous debate over the extent of any order, with Little asserting that the health of the public takes priority and Perry replying that the health of the economy is more important.

The order is punishable according to the Texas Disaster Act of 1975. Any person who violates this order may be subject to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or confinement for a period not exceeding 180 days. However, Ellis County Sheriff Chuck Edge told commissioners that his office could enforce the order, but that it would not be practical to do so.

“This was a hard decision to make,” Little said. “I understand this is a time of uncertainty, but it is imperative to take the necessary actions as recommended by our local health authority to support our first responders and medical personnel who are working to preserve the health of the public. We must do everything within our means to protect life and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Ellis County, and we must do it now.”

Other items

• The county has suspended Brinks cash pickup at each of the county tax offices in Waxahachie, Ennis, Red Oak and Midlothian.

• The commissioners approved a resolution urging that county property tax rates be frozen at 2019 rates.

• Commissioners authorized county purchasing agent E.J. Harbin to make up to $25,000 in purchases without complying with the county purchasing manual.

• County employees will continue to be paid through the COVID-19 shutdown in the event that employees are quarantined or offices are closed.

• The county will quarantine first responders at the Salvation Army Hoblitzelle Camp and Conference Center for 14 nights on a pay-as-you-go basis, with decontamination a part of the contract.

• County elections commissioner Jana Onyon told commissioners that all but two political subdivisions in the county have indicated that they will postpone the May 2 elections to Nov. 3 following Gov. Greg Abbott’s proclamation last week. The runoff elections for the March 3 primaries will now be held on July 14.

• Richard Lee Beer was appointed to replaces Randy Johnston as ESD #6 commissioner.