Though things look a bit different than they did just 30 days ago, Grayson County is still open for business. From the folks at the Tax Office to the courtrooms at the Grayson County Courthouse, the people who have been elected to help run the county and their staff are on the job.
A part of their job is encouraging the rest of the county to follow the guidance set out by Governor Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump about staying at home unless it is absolutely necessary to be out and about. That advice is being followed at the Justice Center where the hearings that are going on might look different than they have in the past, but the justice being reached there is the same.
Grayson County District Attorney Brett Smith said since March 3, his office has cleared 143 misdemeanors and 120 felonies from the docket.
Judges are having inmates brought up to their courtrooms in smaller groups to keep the number under 10 and are moving fewer people at a time through the series of hearings known commonly as a "jail chain" but they are continuing to move the cases forward. In some cases, Smith said, the inmates aren't even coming up to the courtroom and the judges are holding the hearings via technology.
Defense attorney Bob Jarvis said he and his staff have been practicing social distancing in their office, like many other local law offices. He said he thinks the courts are doing the right thing by holding some of the hearings by Zoom and or even by phone if it is not contested.
"We really need to keep each other safe right now," Jarvis said. "I think we are all working together, trying our best to get things done," he said.
Keeping the wheels of justice turning while keeping everyone as safe as possible is at the top of everyone's list," Smith said.
He said that his attorneys, who are designated as essential employees, are all working every weekday in their offices. Other members of his staff are working split shifts to cut down on the number of people in the normally crowded office at one time. He said he only has about four people who have had to take paid leave due to the virus precautions.
Other offices in county government are only seeing people on a one on one basis with appointments to cut down on the number of people in and out of the courthouse while continuing to help people conduct the business they need to conduct with the county.
In a statement to local news media, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers, Sheriff Tom Watt, and Emergency Management Coordinator Sarah Somers said that by and large Grayson County residents also seem to be doing their part to help not the spread of the virus. are abiding by the guidance given by Governor Greg Abbott this week about staying at home unless you are an essential employee doing essential work or are on your way to get groceries or other essential items.
Magers pointed to the churches locally as proof of that. He said almost as soon as the Governor issued the order cutting the number of people who can gather together to 50, local churches started moving their services online. And they have continued that.
The judge said the fact that there are only 11 cases in Grayson County so far and that they are all related to travel indicates that people are trying to follow the guidelines.
That doesn't mean that every single person will do what is being suggested, he said. In those cases, Watt said, the Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement will be trying to remind those folks that they need to be following the guidelines as well and if they won't be reminded, it might come to the point that someone has to go to jail over situation.
People are allowed, he stressed, to go out to get groceries and food or to go to doctor's appointments and pick up medications. And people who work at jobs that have been classified as essential are able to go out and do their jobs. No one, Somers said, needs any kind of special paperwork to show that they are essential. People their regular state identification and their work identification.
Somers said no one is going to be stopping people just because they are out driving around. But if a person is stopped because they are speeding or something, then the officer who makes the stop might ask why that person is out and about. That would be the time to produce that work identification or give the officer the reason for being out.
Magers said though there hasn't been a confirmed case of the virus being spread socially at this point, it will happen at some point. The idea behind the measures to keep everyone at home as much as possible is to keep that spread as low as possible and to slow it down so that by the time it happens, the local hospitals and other facilities that will need to react to it have the time to get the things they need to respond.
The Grayson County Commissioners Court will continue to review the orders currently in place in the county each will and will make any changes that are needed, but for now, Magers said. people need to follow the guidelines set out by the Governor's Office and not get really hung up on if it says "Shelter in Place" or not. The Governor said the guidelines mean that people should stay at home and avoid being in groups unless it is absolutely necessary to get food or other essential items. People should not be going to work unless their jobs have been classified as essential services.