Client Alert

PH COVID-19 Client Alert Series: Harris County, Texas - Stay Home, Work Safe Order

March 25, 2020

By David Peterman, J.D. Hess & Bill Pritchett

Click here to read more from our Coronavirus series.

Harris County issued its Stay Home, Work Safe Order on March 24, 2020, to be effective starting at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 and running through 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 3, 2020.

The following is a summary of the Order. It includes a table that organizes and summarizes the headline restrictions, exceptions, exemptions, enforcement actions, timetables and more that are set forth in the official Order the full text of which can be accessed at https://www.readyharris.org/Stay-Home.

To date, the State of Texas has not issued a state-wide stay at home order. As a consequence, many of the counties in the State of Texas have begun issuing their own shelter in place or stay at home orders. So far these various county orders have followed the same general framework. Each has generally required that subject to specified exceptions, all individuals residing in that county are to remain at home for the term of the order, and that all businesses operating in that county cease operation. The specified exceptions are for individuals providing essential activities, and for businesses that are essential businesses, and those terms are defined and explained in each county’s order.

Each of the orders has been structured so as to supplement the guidance issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”) with regards to the 16 critical infrastructure sectors it identified. 

Each county has provided additional guidance as to the application of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors in that county, and has provided its own guidance as to what are essential activities and essential businesses in that county. For example, Harris County has specifically excepted activities of NASA and the Port of Houston. Other counties have identified exceptions that are unique and appropriate for the respective counties.

The following is our summary of the Harris County Order. We hope that you find this useful in navigating your personal lives and business operations during these unprecedented times. While this summary is specific to the Harris County Order, those of you who live in or have business operations in other counties in the State of Texas will still find this summary to be generally useful, as most of the counties are following the same general framework. However, you will need to refer to any order issued by your County in order to definitively understand the restrictions that your County has mandated.

One note and one recommendation.

Note. This is a very fluid situation and the various County orders, while detailed in some ways are also subject to interpretation in others. We anticipate that all County orders will continue to be amended or supplemented as the orders began to be implemented in our communities. We will attempt to update this summary over the following days and weeks, but please be aware that this summary speaks only as to the Harris County Order as of the date stated above and reflects the information that we have been able to locate that is publicly available.

Recommendation. For those operating an Essential Business, we encourage you to consider issuing to each of your employees or contractors who will be traveling to and from your business a letter on company letterhead that identifies the name of your company, generally states the nature of your business, names the individual employee or contractor, and states that you require that individual to be at your place of business in order to operate. We have not seen any reference to such a letter in any of the County orders so far, and as a consequence any such letter would not have any officially mandated special authority. However, we would anticipate that having such a letter in his or her possession would lend credibility should they be stopped or questioned by a law enforcement officer or other governmental authority.

Finally, please note that this summary highlights information contained in the Harris County Order. In evaluating how the Order applies to you or your business, you should carefully read the entire Order and the other rules, orders, and announcements referenced in the Order.


Restrictions Effective Dates From 11:59 p.m. on March
24, 2020 through 11:59 p.m. on April 3, 2020
All individuals currently
living within Harris County are ordered to stay at their place of residence
except for Essential Activities (defined below).

All persons may leave their Residences
(defined below) only for Essential Activities (defined below), or to provide or
perform Essential Governmental Functions (defined below), or to operate
Essential Businesses.

Residence - For purposes of the Order, Residence includes homes, hotels,
motels, shared rentals, and similar facilities.
  Homeless Individuals experiencing
homelessness are exempt from the Order except that they are to try to maintain
social distancing of at least six feet from any other person.
  Businesses, Other Than Essential
Businesses, to Cease Operations (employees can work from home)
All businesses operating within Harris County are required
to cease all activities at facilities located within the County. This does not
apply to Essential Businesses.

Businesses may continue operations with employees or contractors working
from home.
  No Gatherings All public or private
gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or
living unit are prohibited. There are exceptions for certain outdoor spaces and
activities (see Public Parks, etc. below).

This does not prohibit the
gathering of members of a household or living unit.

This does not affect orders
or agreements regarding child-related visitation or custody arrangements.
  Public Parks, etc. Okay Individuals may go to public
parks and open outdoor recreation areas. Note that six-foot social distancing
requirements still apply.

Public playgrounds are closed
- they may increase spread of COVID-19.

People are advised not to touch benches, water fountains, swings, or
other outdoor objects.
  Restaurants, Bars, etc. May
Provide Take-Out Services
Restaurants, bars,
micro-breweries, micro-distilleries, wineries, and other establishments that
serve food may only serve food and/or alcohol by take out, delivery, or drive-through
  Gyms, Fitness Centers,
Pools, etc. Closed
Gyms, fitness centers,
swimming pools, and other facilities that are used or intended to be used for
any type of training, martial arts, sport, or recreation shall close.
  Hair, Nail Salons, Concert
Halls, Stadiums, Theaters, etc. Are Closed
Hair and nail salons, spas,
licensed massage businesses and tattoo parlors, concert halls, live performance
theaters, arenas, stadiums, movie theaters, game rooms, bowling alleys,
arcades, indoor and outdoor flea markets and swap meets, indoor malls, indoor
shopping centers, and bingo halls shall close.
  Faith Based and Other
Religious Services Are Restricted
Faith leaders may minister and
counsel in individual settings.

Religious and worship services
may only be provided by video and teleconference.

Religious institutions must
limit in-person staff to those necessary for preparing for or conducting video
or teleconference services.

In all cases, the six-foot social distancing rules must be observed.
Essential Activities

(Permitted Activities)
Health and Safety To engage in activities or
perform tasks essential to their health and safety, or to the health and safety
of their family or household members (for example, obtaining medical supplies
or medication, visiting a healthcare professional, or obtaining supplies needed
to work from home).
  Obtaining Necessary
Services or Supplies
To obtain necessary
services or supplies for themselves and their family or household members, or
to deliver those services or supplies to others (for example, food, pet
supplies, and any other household consumer products, supplies needed to work
from home, and products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation, and
essential operation of residences).
  Outdoor Activities To engage in outdoor
activity (for example, walking, biking, hiking, running, or fishing), provided
the individuals comply with social distancing requirements of six feet.
  Working for Essential
Businesses and Other Permitted Activities
To perform work providing
essential products and services at an Essential Business or to otherwise carry
out activities specifically permitted in the Order.
  Care for Family Members or
To care for a family member
or pet in another household.
Essential Businesses Essential Critical

necessary to the operations and maintenance of the 16 critical infrastructure
sectors identified by CISA (see below) provided that they carry out those
services or that work in compliance with social distancing requirements of six
feet to the extent possible.

Note: The
Harris County Order provides additional guidance as to how the 16 critical
infrastructure sectors apply in Harris County.

Note: A
copy of the extensive guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
National Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) regarding the
16 critical infrastructure sectors is included at the end of the Order and can
be accessed at https://www.readyharris.org/Stay-Home.

The 16 sectors are:

Healthcare/Public Health

Law Enforcement, Public Safety, and First Responders

Food and Agriculture


Water and Wastewater

Transportation and Logistics

Public Works

Communications and Information Technology

Other Community-Based Government Operations and
Essential Functions

Critical Manufacturing

Hazardous Materials

Financial Services


Defense Industrial Base

  Essential Government
All services provided by local
governments and municipalities located in Harris County needed to ensure their
continuing operation to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the
public, including law enforcement, jail operations, and other services.

Must comply with social distancing requirements of six feet to the
extent possible.
  Essential City of Houston
Government Functions
All services provided by the
City of Houston that the Mayor of the City of Houston determines to be essential
Government Functions.

Must comply with social distancing requirements of six feet to the
extent possible.
  Essential Healthcare
Healthcare operations, including hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, pharmaceutical and
biotechnology companies, other healthcare facilities, healthcare suppliers,
mental health providers, substance abuse service providers, blood banks,
medical research, laboratory services, or any related and/or ancillary
healthcare services.

Home-based and residential-based care for seniors, adults, or children are also considered
healthcare operations.

Healthcare operations also include veterinary care and
all health and welfare services provided to animals.

This exemption is to be
viewed broadly to avoid any impacts to the delivery of healthcare.

Note: On March 22, 2020,
Governor Greg Abbott ordered that all non-essential (elective) surgeries and
medical procedures be postponed until 11:59 p.m. on April 21, 2020. Governor Abbot has subsequently issued
additional orders that further clarify this order.
  Essential Retail Food producers and service
providers, including grocery stores, warehouse stores, furniture suppliers,
big box stores, bodegas, liquor stores, gas stations and convenience stores, and
farmers’ markets that sell food products and household staples.

Food cultivation, including
farming, ranching, fishing, and livestock.

Food production, including
the production of canned goods, bottled beverages, and other grocery items.

Businesses that ship or
deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences.

Restaurants and other
facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery, drive-thru, or

Schools and other entities
that typically provide free services to students or members of the public on
a pick-up and take-away basis only.

The restriction of delivery
or carry-out does not apply to cafes and restaurants located within hospital
and medical facilities.

Laundromats, dry cleaners,
and laundry service providers.

Gas stations, auto supply,
auto and bicycle repair, hardware stores, and related facilities.

Businesses that supply
products needed for people to work from home.
  Providers of Basic
Necessities to Economically Disadvantaged Populations
Businesses that provide
food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for
economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals.
  Essential Services
Necessary to Maintain Essential Operations of Residences or Other Essential
Trash and recycling
collection, processing and disposal, mail and shipping services, building
cleaning, maintenance and security, warehouse/distribution and fulfillment,
storage for essential businesses, funeral homes, crematoriums, and

Plumbers, electricians,
exterminators, yard and maintenance crews, housekeepers, janitorial staff,
pool cleaners and other service providers who provide services that are
necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of
residences and Essential Businesses.

Professional services, such
as legal or accounting services, when necessary to assist in compliance with
legally mandated activities.

Businesses that supply other
Essential Businesses with support or utilities needed to operate.

Caregivers and helpers who
provide services to seniors and disabled individuals.
  News Media Newspapers, television,
radio, and other media services.
  Childcare and Adult Care
Childcare and adult care
facilities providing services that enable employees exempted in the Order to
work as permitted.
Development, Operation, and Construction
For example, public works
construction, construction of housing or other types of construction including
commercial, manufacturing, airport operations and aircraft manufacturing,
maintenance or repair, water, sewer, gas, electrical, oil refining, roads and
highways, public transportation, solid waste collection and removal, internet,
and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global,
national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business
infrastructure, communications, and web-based services).
  Transportation Businesses related to the
operation, maintenance, construction, and manufacture of transportation

For example:

(a) vehicle manufacturers,
automotive suppliers and parts departments, car dealerships, parts
distributors, maintenance and repair

(b) public transportation;

(c) businesses supporting
airport operations;

(d) street and highway
maintenance and construction;

(e) gas stations and other
fuel distribution businesses; and

(f) vehicles for hire,
including public transportation services, Uber, Lyft, and taxicabs, that
enable persons to travel to or from employers, service providers, or
businesses exempted in the Order. However, people riding on public transit
must comply with the six-foot social distancing requirements to the greatest
extent feasible.
  Labor Union Functions Critical labor union
functions, including the maintenance of health and welfare funds and checking
on the well-being and safety of members.
  NASA and Port of Houston Activities of the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Port of Houston.

Note: These are very broadly stated exceptions that seem to permit any
activities associated with NASA or the Port of Houston. We anticipate that
there will be amendments or clarifications to these exceptions in order to
better define what is covered by these exceptions.
  Airports and Related
Airport and airline
activities, operations, maintenance and repairs, and the hotels that serve
these Essential Businesses.

Note: This is a very broadly stated exception that seems to permit any
activities associated with our airports. We anticipate that there will be
amendments or clarifications to this exception in order to better define what
is covered by this exemption.
  Professional Services Professional services, such
as legal or accounting services, insurances services, and “real estate services”
when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities or to
further Essential Businesses, Essential Government functions, or Critical
Additional Rules and Exceptions General Requirements All Essential Businesses must
follow these guidelines:

(1) practice social distancing
by requiring patrons, visitors, and employees to be separated by six (6) feet,
to the extent feasible;

(2) provide access to hand
washing facilities with soap and water or hand sanitizer that contains at least
60 percent alcohol;

(3) post a sign in a
conspicuous place at the public entrance to the venue instructing members of
the public not to enter if they are experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness,
including fever or cough; and

(4) adhere to other general communicable disease control recommendations
by public health authorities.
for Exemptions:

Businesses that Retool
to Provide Health Supplies or Other Essential Services

Other Businesses
Any manufacturer who retools
so that a substantial part of their business is for the purpose of
manufacturing and producing ventilators, personal protective equipment, or
other medical supplies and equipment necessary for the COVID-19 response may
apply for an “Essential Business” exemption under the Order.

Any industry or business
that is not an Essential Business may apply for an exemption from the
requirements imposed by this Order.

To be eligible for an
exemption, the industry or business must complete and submit an application
form, which will be made available to the public at www.ReadyHarris.org,
along with evidence that the continuing operations of the business or
industry are essential to promoting the general welfare of the residents of
Harris County and the State of Texas during the COVID-19 response.

Businesses or industries
that retool or amend their operations to provide or support Essential
Services during the COVID-19 response may also submit an application for
  Delivery Hour Restrictions
Suspended for Grocery Stores, Hospitals, etc.
The Order hereby suspends
all delivery hour restrictions for transport to or from any entity involved
in the selling or distribution of food products, medicine, or medical
supplies or equipment in Harris County for the next sixty (60) days.
  Household to Quarantine if
Positive Test for COVID-19
If someone in a household
has tested positive for COVID-19, all residents of the household are ordered to
isolate at home until cleared by a public health authority or medical provider.
  Nursing Homes, etc. to
Prohibit Visitors Except for End-of-Life Visitation
Nursing homes, retirement,
and long-term care facilities are to prohibit nonessential visitors from
accessing their facilities unless to provide critical assistance or for
end-of-life visitation.
  Penalties for Failure to
Comply with Order
Any law enforcement agency
based in Harris County is authorized to enforce the Order and the failure to
comply with the Order is punishable by a fine that does not exceed $1,000.00 or
confinement in jail for a term that does not exceed one hundred eighty (180)


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