The city of Stephenville conducted a virtual town hall meeting Monday afternoon, giving the public a chance to view City Manager Allen Barnes, Assistant City Manager Jason King, Police Chief Dan Harris and Fire Chief Jimmy Chew discussing the coronavirus topic online.


Barnes said that the proclamation that had been previously announced by Mayor Doug Svien has not been changed.


The group also fielded some questions on Tuesday via Facebook and YouTube that were submitted by the public, including one asking if the community is being asked to shelter in place at home at this point, to which King responded, “Not yet.”


As for local coronavirus testing, King noted that local health officials are “seeing testing ability increasing daily,” and added, “We have no indication that our testing needs have exceeded our ability.”


Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew reported that, “Our run numbers are going down, which is a great thing.”


As for local ICU units currently available locally, Chew noted that there are five right now.


Stephenville chief of police Dan Harris addressed the question of limiting the number of people allowed to gather in a confined space to no more than 10 (per the disaster declaration), making a request to local residents to help in the enforcement of that, adding, “We need your help to abide by this declaration.”


Harris asked residents to have “patience and flexibility with us,” and added a message to any would-be criminals during this period of time, warning them that “this is the wrong place and wrong time” to violate the law.


County law enforcement agencies, along with Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash, had stated in a March 20, 2020, news release that some penalties for crimes committed under Gov. Greg Abbott’s public disaster declaration will be enhanced.


That news release states the enhanced penalties for “certain assaultive, theft and property crimes” that are otherwise misdemeanors “may not be enhanced to the punishment for felonies under Texas Penal Code 12.50. Also, penalties for “certain felonies, the potential consequences are enhanced to the next higher degree punishment.”


Both Harris and Chew reported that they are currently adequately staffed.


The E-T contacted Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien, who noted that a special meeting of the City Council is set for 2 p.m. today (Wednesday, March 25). Council members will participate in the meeting electronically, via Zoom, rather than meeting together. City Secretary Stacy King said that the meeting will available, streaming live, through the city of Stephenville’s Facebook page.


Svien said that the City Council will consider three options during this afternoon’s meeting. One option is to make to changes in the city’s current coronavirus emergency health plan at this time. A second option is to amend the current policies.


The third option could be to vote to make Stephenville a “shelter-in-place” city. Other cities around the state and nation have done that, but the local version of shelter-in-place, if implemented by the council, would involve details specific to the local situation.


Svien said that the council members have been reaching out for the past few days to business owners in the city to find out what situation they are in — how the coronavirus situation if affecting them, and to see what recommendations they have.


“The most important thing is to protect the citizens of Stephenville, Texas, and I feel confident that’s what the council’s ultimate decision will do,” Svien told the E-T.