Stephenville City Council met for an emergency city council meeting 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss emergency actions related to the city and to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The meeting was limited to city council members only and was broadcast via Facebook Live.

The council passed a disaster declaration with updated provisions that went into effect on midnight Thursday, March 19.

“We are in a situation with a malady unlike anything ever seen,” said Allen Barnes, city manager during the city council meeting. “The Spanish flu of 1917, 1918 was simply a human flu bug. This is a novel virus. This is one that has never been seen in humans. It is an animal virus that has moved to human beings. This is a very aggressive, very egregious malady and I think it calls for special matters. This may be two weeks, two months, six months but if it eliminates the probability, possibility of passing this deadly disease on, then it’s worth it.”

City facilities and parks are closed to the public and court will not take place until April.

Restaurants are not allowed to have customers dine in but are able to have curbside, carryout, drive through and delivery.

Members of the city council had some discussion on whether to limit gatherings of people to 50 or 10.

Some members did not want to place restrictions on small businesses due to the fact that they would lose money while others preferred to err on the side of caution and stick with gatherings of 10 people.

“Limiting a business’ ability to do business goes against every fiber in my being but this is a different time and it is very personal,” said Ricky Thurman, place 5. “Personally, my family has a small business that has shut down, so I understand the gravity of what we’re talking about and what it means to place restrictions on our small businesses. It's not fun but that’s something we have to take very seriously, and I would rather look back in six months and say, ‘Maybe we got a little too restrictive than we had to.’ I would much rather do that than look back in six months and say, ‘We should’ve shut it completely down and we didn’t.’”

Brady Pendleton, place 4 and mayor pro tem and Mark McClinton, place 1, argued that going from no restrictions down to 10 is extreme and that citizens are concerned with economic stability.

“We’re at the front end of this thing,” said Gerald Cook, place 7 on the council. “This is when the federal authorities are telling us that we need to flatten the curve, mainly because of our ability to handle people that do get sick and they’re going to get sick in Stephenville, just like they are in other places in the country. It is time for us to take action here and then a week from now, when we know a little bit more, we can loosen it up a bit. I’d rather err on the side of safety for the people of Stephenville for a week at least and let’s reconsider this than to err on the side of making a lot of people sick and having some people die.”

The council eventually came to a decision to keep the number of people in a gathering at 10.

Business types that are allowed to have gatherings of 10 or more people include office buildings, churches, government buildings, critical infrastructure, grocery stores, pharmacies, retail stores, manufacturing locations, non-profit service providers, day cares and medical facilities.

Business types that are not allowed to have gatherings of 10 or more people counting staff include bars, taverns, commercial amusement, theaters, gyms, private clubs and other business types not listed.

All public, private and commercial laboratories operating within the city of Stephenville shall report by 5 p.m. each day and report the number of coronavirus tests performed and the number of positive COVID-19 tests to Jimmy Chew, director of emergency management for the city of Stephenville.

Laboratories shall not provide names or identifiable health information that could be used to identify an individual patient. This information will be used solely for public health purposes to monitor the testing conducted by the city and mitigate and contain the spread of COVID-19.

Any person who violates any provision of these regulations is punishable by a fine of not less than $50 and not more than $2,000.

These restrictions will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, March 26.

“These are some of the toughest times that our city is going to face and I can tell you that it scares everybody to death when they read and hear things on the news,” said Mayor Doug Svien. “Our discussions today were good, and it shows that all of us care about the citizens of Stephenville.”