Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain, during a Monday afternoon conference call with area pastors, announced that the number of people allowed to congregate in one place at one time has been lowered from 250 to 50.
Cleburne City Council members put the 250 limit in place during a Friday emergency meeting in response to the continued spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus.
The council at that time also closed several city facilities through March 29.
The declaration of local disaster Cain signed on Friday is flexible allowing city officials to adjust the regulations as necessary and quickly something officials say is warranted given the daily changes in the coronavirus situation over the past few days.
Cain stressed during Monday’s conference call that no confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Johnson County.
“Sorry guys,” Cain told pastors and others on the conference call. “I’ve really given this a lot of thought and prayer. My hope after all this is over is that people say myself, the governor and the president overreacted. I can live with that more than I could if we lose some of our older residents or those with other health problems because we didn’t do enough. So it’s weighing heavily on my shoulders to ensure we do the right thing here because we only have one go at it.”
Cain said he reached out to pastors given that the new mass gathering limit obviously affects their ability to hold services.
Cain added that the limit is room, not building specific meaning that churches, depending on their size, may still hold separate services in different areas of their buildings.
The decision to lower the gathering number stemmed from several conference calls with Gov. Greg Abbott, CDC officials and conversations with other officials.
“We can’t stop [coronavirus] in its tracks,” Cain said. “But if we can slow down the spread we can manage it better.”
Cain cited the easy transmittal of coronavirus and the fact that a person can be affected for some time without showing symptoms. The concern, he said, is that they in turn might infects elderly residents and/or those with underlying health issues.
Another major concern, Cain said, is the possible impact of the disease on the city’s basic services, in particular first responders.
Cain also cautioned pastors from allowing church members to gather in close proximity in bottleneck, lobby and or greeting areas.
Although CDC guidelines call for keeping the restrictions in place for eight weeks, Cain said Cleburne, for now, will keep them in place through the originally planned March 29 deadline. Past that, decisions will be made as to whether to extend the restrictions for one or two week periods as needed.
It’s important as well, Cain said, for people who meet infrequently — such as once a week at church — exercise common sense by maintaining 6 foot perimeters, avoid contact and other safety measures.
Cain said he is not at this time considering limiting the number of people allowed to congregate to 10 as President Donald Trump suggested on Monday.
That could change, Cain said, but he would need strong data and evidence from CDC and other health officials to consider decreasing the number below 50.
When asked by one pastor how long the city’s measures are likely to remain in place Cain said it’s too early to tell but said he things the estimate of eight weeks given by many officials throughout the country may be “too conservative.”
Cain cautioned against panic and called for unity.
“None of this has caught God off guard,” Cain said. “But he also gave us a brain and expects us to use it. We want people to still go out, shop and eat but also to use common sense. We don’t need panic buying and binging. I’ve talked to the managers of all our grocery stores. They’ve assured me they have no shortage of resources.”
All the same, Cain said, people should buy what they need but avoid stockpiling.
Cleburne Assistant Fire Chief Keith Scarbrough voiced concerns over overloading the resources of area first responders and medical facilities and urged anyone feeling sick to stay home so as not to spread the virus.
Cleburne EMS Chief Cory White reiterated common sense measures suggested in recent days to stem spread of the virus. Those include washing hands thoroughly and often, using sanitizer, maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, avoidance of touching your face and sanitizing table tops, door knobs and other heavily used surfaces frequently.
The times while trying are also an opportunity for local pastors and others to minister in a variety of ways and for Cleburne to shine as a community by working through the next few weeks together.