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Officials preach social distancing

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County’s two COVID-19 cases confirmed to be travel related

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    Kendall County EMS medic Chris Kniffin, first photo, gets a temperature read on District Judge Kirsten Cohoon before she is allowed into the Kendall County Courthouse Monday morning. The screenings are a part of ramped up protocols in the county set up by Emergency Management Services Director Jeff Fincke. Cohoon reported for duty, second photo, clutching a container of Clorox wipes as she answered questions about potential symptoms and what her business was at the courthouse. Star photos by Crystal Henry
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On Saturday, Boerne Mayor Tim Handren confirmed Kendall County’s two COVID-19 cases are travel related, and there is not a community spread case confirmed currently in the county.

Still, local officials are urging residents to stay vigilant to prevent community spread by adhering to new social guidelines.

“We are ahead of the curve right now,” Handren said. “I want to be a model community where this doesn’t spread.”

He warned that people in other parts of the United States, specifically on the West Coast, waited too long to put restrictions in place. So while some have criticized the mayor for being too strict, and others say he’s not being strict enough, Handren said he’s been working with the county health director, as well as the mayor in San Antonio and other local officials, to make the best choices for Boerne based on the information that is available.

“Frankly I tried to do what I thought was right,” Handren said.

As of Monday morning, no new information had been released concerning the county’s two cases. However, Boerne Independent School District Superintendent Tom Price told The Star that he has not been informed that any BISD staff or student officially has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The district did state last week that two BISD staff had been tested and were self-quarantined.

Handren also said he did not know if the county’s cases were related to the two BISD employees.

“Since we don’t know who they are, we don’t know if there is a BISD connection,” he said.

Situations seem to change by the hour, and while Handren made an original disaster declaration last Monday, March 16, alongside County Judge Darrel Lux and Fair Oaks Ranch Mayor Garry Manitzas, by Thursday those orders had changed.

They changed again Monday when Handren gave public safety teams in the city more enforcement ability and required individuals returning to the city if they were more than 100 miles away to self-quarantine for 14 days.

His simple message is for people to stay home unless they are required to be at work providing essential services to the community or need those services.

These kinds of services within the city include law enforcement, medical services, banking services, food and supply services or essential communication services. The declaration now states all people shall avoid gatherings of any size.

Restaurants and other eating establishments still may offer drive-through and curbside services, the city stated.

As of Monday morning, the county had two confirmed COVID-19 cases with a potential third under investigation.

On Sunday, Handren used Facebook to remind everyone to adhere to the social distancing directives.

“Please, please, please stay home and away from public interactions,” he said. “Only go for food, fuel and banking needs. If you did not watch any of the news shows this morning, the situation in Italy and Spain is dire because they waited too long to do what we are doing now.

“And one more thing, please, please, please stay home and avoid public interactions.

“P.S. Please stay home.”

The city on Monday set up an email for the community to be able to ask questions and get responses about specific COVID-19 related actions being taken here in the area. The address is COVID19@boerne-tx.gov.

Following a declaration from Gov. Greg Abbott, the city, county and FOR updated their respective orders to prohibit social gatherings of more than 10 people and dine-in options at restaurants.

While Boerne’s restrictions went a bit farther than the governor’s orders by closing down city hall to visitors, banning garage and estate sales, requiring all child care facilities to comply with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enforcing penalties, fines and jail time for non-compliance, the county hasn’t gone that far.

“We are open for business, and that is what the governor wants, and that is what we’re going to do,” Lux said.

Lux said city and county operations are different, and he doesn’t see the need to close the courthouse because he interprets the governor’s executive order differently than the mayor.

“Government entities and business will provide essential service,” Lux said. “That’s our responsibility to the public to do so.”

Lux said some changes have been made in county operations, but the county clerk and the tax office essentially will be business as usual because those services are provided on a walk-in basis. When asked if they could be handled by appointment, Lux said they could not.

“They continue to be open for business as before,” he said.

Those offices handle services like license plates, marriage and death certificates — all of which Lux said he considers essential. He said development meetings are being held by appointment.

EMS personnel were monitoring the doors of the courthouse Monday morning before the commissioner’s court meeting, and individuals were given a sanitizing wipe, screened for risk factors through a verbal questionnaire and temperatures were taken before they were allowed to come into the building. Inside the courtroom, the chairs were spaced farther apart, awards for service were not given in person and Lux asked the auditor from Fredericksburg, slated on the Monday agenda, to conduct his portion of the meeting via teleconference.

When asked if he would abide by the governor’s order to limit social gatherings to no more than 10 people, he said that basically would mean they couldn’t conduct their meeting because the commissioner’s court is made up of five members and various support staff. The commissioners were spaced six feet apart with two commissioners sitting at desks near the dais.

“I believe it applies to social gatherings only,” Lux said. “I do not believe it applies to commissioner’s court.”

Handren said he realizes his restrictions are tighter than the county, and he said he also is aware of the strain this puts on local businesses. As the CEO of Santikos Entertainment Co. in San Antonio, Handren said he has had to make some gut-wrenching decisions for his employees in recent days. But he’s hoping if everyone abides by the restrictions now, they can prevent more long-term damage.

“I feel very good about what I did this morning,” he said Friday referring to his updated disaster declaration. “I wanted to put something in that had teeth in it.”

Fair Oaks Ranch announced Thursday that beginning last Friday city offices would be closed and staff would be available by phone or email. Like Boerne, FOR is encouraging utilities customers to pay online, by phone during business hours or by using the dropbox outside of city hall. Building department services in FOR will be handled by phone or email, and again officials are asking for permit applications and plans to be submitted digitally.

FOR said utilities will not be affected during this time and that field staff has been instructed not to make physical contact with residents during service calls.

FOR also will be rescheduling all municipal court hearings and people affected should be notified by mail when those dates are available.

The FOR City Council voted last Thursday night to postpone elections until November, and the council will not meet in person until further notice. Details about public meetings were not immediately available.

The Kendall County Boerne Fair Oaks Transportation Committee also is suspending further meetings for now.

– Star Managing Editor Keith E. Domke contributed to this story.