Court Guidance After Governor Abbott Lifts Statewide COVID-19 Restrictions

Governor Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-34 yesterday (March 2, 2021) relating to the COVID-19 disaster. For many court personnel, the new order raised questions about the effect, if any, on court operations. Thankfully, the Office of Court Administration quickly sent out COVID Update #20. If you did not receive it, I have pasted the update below in its entirety.

Judges, Clerks, and Court Staff:

As you may know, today Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34, relating to the opening of Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster, that is effective on March 10 at 12:01 am. In the order, the Governor rescinded Executive Orders GA-17 (establishing Strike Force to Open Texas), GA-25 (in-person visitation at county and municipal jails), GA-29 (requiring face coverings), and GA-31 (hospital capacity). The executive order removes operating limits for businesses, encourages but does not require wearing of face coverings, and authorizes county judges to impose certain occupancy limits in businesses and certain other establishments if hospitalization rates are high. GA-10 (daily reporting) and GA-13 (detention in county and municipal jails) remain in effect.

Several of you have reached out to determine how today’s executive order impacts the Texas courts, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders, and OCA’s Guidance. Since the Governor did not rescind the disaster declaration, the Supreme Court’s Emergency Orders remain in effect until the Supreme Court rescinds, amends, or allows the orders to expire. The Court’s current general emergency order, the 33rd Emergency Order, is currently set to expire on April 1, unless extended. As has been typical during the pandemic, the Court reviews its emergency orders regularly and was already planning on doing so for the 33rd Emergency Order in the coming days. We anticipate the Court will issue another general emergency order soon, and OCA will revise its Guidance to reflect any changes required by the order at that time.

I will ensure that you are provided any updated guidance or emergency orders prior to the effective date of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (March 10).

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us at coronavirus@txcourts.gov.

David Slayton

Administrative Director

Office of Court Administration

If you haven’t yet seen GA-34, here’s a quick summary. Effective March 10, 2021, Abbott ordered that, in all Texas counties without high hospitalizations, there are no COVID-19 operating limits for any business or other establishment, although face coverings are still strongly encouraged when it is not feasible to maintain social distancing of six feet from a person not in the same household. No jurisdiction, however, may require a person to wear or mandate face coverings.

In areas that have seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients exceeds 15% of total hospital capacity, a county judge may use certain mitigation strategies. The strategies include operating limits at no less than 50% of total occupancy on businesses or other establishments, but no operating limits are allowed to be imposed for religious services, public and private schools and institutions of higher education, and child-care services.

Notably, no jurisdiction may impose a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering or for failure to mandate the customers or employees wear face coverings. Trespassing laws, however, may be enforced and violators may be removed at the request of a business establishment or property owner.

The full order can be viewed here.

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