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March 4, 2021, 10:30 A.M.
Tuesday, Governor Abbott released a new order affecting the opening of Texas. The March 2nd order, GA-34, allows ALL Texas businesses outside of areas of high COVID hospitalization to return to 100 percent occupancy. This includes increasing the maximum capacity of indoor meeting space to 100 percent, allowing standalone bars to operate at 100 percent capacity, and removing the state mandate on masks. GA-34
takes effect on Wednesday, March 10th. GA-34
provides the following:
1. A full opening of Texas businesses, without capacity limitations, except in areas in areas of Texas where COVID-19 hospitalization cases exceed 15 percent of the area’s hospital census (more on this below).
2. Removes the statewide mask mandate.
3. Local government officials may not issue orders mandating masks unless the 15 percent hospitalization threshold is reached.
4. Prohibits a local government official from issuing orders restricting business capacity, unless the 15 percent hospitalization threshold is reached.
Areas of Texas where COVID-19 hospitalization cases exceed 15 percent of the area’s hospital census:
Under GA-34, in areas of Texas where COVID-19 hospitalization cases exceed 15 percent of the area’s hospital census, the county judge may issue a local emergency order restricting meeting space, restaurants, bars, retail areas, pools, and gym capacity to 50 percent maximum occupancy.
Additionally, the county judge in areas of high hospitalization may require individuals to wear a face covering, but the county may not impose a penalty for failure to do so.
Currently, only the El Paso area is an area of high hospitalization.
GA-34 allows businesses to enact and enforce its own policies related to mitigating COVID-19.
January 4, 2021, 2:15 P.M.
As we close out 2020 and start out 2021, I wanted to give you a rundown of key accomplishments that the City achieved in 2020. We will also highlight a few of these at our City Council meeting on January 5, 2021.
- Personnel Policy Refresh taking the best of the 2016 policy and 2018 policy and combining into a new policy that works for the employees and community
- 36 Employees left City employment in FY18-19, 21 Employees left City employment in FY19-20 --- 41.7% reduction
- Continued progress with Leadership Training for our department heads, managers and supervisors with a focus on goal setting
- Renewed focus on visibility in community through: patrols, community activities like Red Ribbon week, and the Chat with the Chief series
- Implemented new pay structure plan to reward employees for advancements and help reduce our officer and dispatcher turnover
- Continued work and demonstrated professionalism through challenges with BCSO and former City Attorney
- Working with Council on Ordinances related to law enforcement: noise, traffic speed, coin-operated businesses
- Improved performance on Case file preparation and cross work with other agencies
- Provided training and improved performance on cash handling across all City departments
- Developed Grant program and added new P/T employee to help manage the opportunities for City (good year-end readout of accomplishments at Dec 1st City Council meeting)
- Managed Utility Billing through Covid-19 to provide balance between citizens being current on bills and cut-offs. Good communication back to Council and Community.
- Worked across all departments to coordinate RFP process and ensure City stays in compliance with government standards - this had been a gap
- 102 City Streets sealcoated (100+ to be completed in 2021)
- 6 Streets, Multiple Parking lots and 6 Alleys rebuilt with HotMix by Jarret Dirt Works (40 street blocks to be completed in 2021)
- Managed through several quarantine situations with staff and continued to keep up with Park work and Street work
- Implemented a Recreation Program with four seasonal employees to offset the pool closure due to Covid concerns. Program ran for six weeks before the first wave of Covid impacted CoA.
- Kept parks open and in good shape for citizens to participate in outside activities as a response to Covid-19
- Implemented Code Enforcement program in March 2020 and began issuing citations (which had not been routinely given in 1.5 years)
- Implemented permitting program with new forms and additional staff member to help facilitate timeliness of transactions
- Work with AISD on reviews and approvals for the new High School build. A project like this would typically take a full-time employee. We are completing with existing building official who is also performing all other inspections in community for build projects.
- Wastewater treatment plant improvements (clarifier, belt press, aerator in process). Currently, all operational violations have been remediated. Only outlier is an Administrative violation with the operator licensing need.
- Built field staff to match needs on: tap installations, routine work tickets, meter reading, daily residual reads necessary to fullfill TCEQ requirements. No operational violations on Nov 2020 inspection by TCEQ on the public water system.
- Rebuilt SCADA system for better visibility of water across the City and in an effort to mitigate the waste of water by overflows.
- Met our DIMP numbers with our Gas Utility and continue to work on infrastructure improvements monthly.
- Worked effectively with Humane Society and local veterinarians on a TNR program to help decrease the number of feral cats in the community
- Implementing a Euthenasia program (alongside TNR program) to help decrease the need to euthanize any animals.
- Another record year with Municipal Solid Waste aversion to our landfill by having a highly functioning Recycle Center. 515 tons of MSW averted through November 2020. This lengthens the lifespan of our landfill
- Working with SRSU and local environmental groups on plan to restore some natural vegetation and bird life through the Poets Grove, Creek and Kokernot Lodge properties. Project will also implement the usage of effluent water from our wastewater treatment plant.
- Two major projects approved and in final stages of engineering: Lighting Project and Sealcoat Project. The projects combined will invest another $1.5M into the Alpine Casparis Municipal Airport
- Hired a new Supervisor at the end of the year and anticipate this will give us greater insight into our fuel pricing, fly-in strategies and general advertising of our local airport
- Refresh of the Visitor Center occurred under Heather Yadon this year providing an inviting venue that has seen traffic increase two-fold.
- Implemented safe practices for tourists and employees during the pandemic
- Kicked off the Midweek Music and Mercantile this fall to promote an outdoor series of events to celebrate the community, vendors and musicians.
- Significant parking and alley improvements around the Center.
- Did not shut down offices due to Pandemic - facilitated remote work and safe workspaces (ie - installed walk-up window at Utility Billing/City Hall).
- Utilized the City website to distribute information relative to business, resident and community concerns through the pandemic. Continue to build content that is relevant and useful for the public.
- Police Chief worked diligently with business owners through early local Emergency Ordinances to help ensure understanding and answer questions as needed.
- City continued to look for ways to keep businesses open: outdoor venues (open sidewalk dining), mask wearing, signage, etc...
The City Staff is excited about the prospects for 2021 and look forward to a great year helping build Alpine into the greatest small town in America.
July 10, 2020, 4:45 P.M.
Another busy week here in the City of Alpine. We continue to accomplish a lot of work on our City Streets and Utility Infrastructure. We appreciate the community's patience relative to the disruption in driving patterns, but know that you all will be pleased with the volume of work we have in motion for the year.
Covid-19 still is the most important topic across the community and we had good discussion at our City Council meeting on Tuesday evening. Thank you Dr. Escovar for help with the slides and the meeting video and presentations are uploaded on our website for anyone who missed it. The case counts have stabilized, but we have not had mass testing since June 18-23rd. We did get confirmation today that our next two days of testing will be July 17th-18th here in Alpine. The mobile test unit will then move to Marfa for testing on July 19th and 20th.
We mourn for the loss of our two family members taken by the virus and express our condolences to their families.
The daily statistics continue to be populated on the County Facebook page and we provide a hyperlink to that information on our website.
The City has been reaching out to the local restaurants to discover what options are available for additional outdoor dining. Our goal is to help the eateries expand outdoor seating on sidewalks and public rights-of-way where applicable. More to come as those options expand.
Big Bend National Park remains closed and we will keep you posted as we learn more about the reopening date from Superintendent Bob Krumenaker.
Stewart Ramser is moving the Viva Big Bend Music Festival to a Virtual Event this year - those details can be found on his website and Facebook page. We appreciate the work that Stewart has put into the Music scene over the years and his continued support of the Alpine community.
Stay safe, wear a mask when in public places and hopefully we will get some reprieve from the hot weather.
July 1, 2020, 10:00 A.M.
This week has started off with heightened concern in the community as our case rates continue to climb with Covid.
The official statistics from the County that were shared at our Emergency City Council meeting are as follows:
These statistics are as of the end of day Monday, June 29th for BREWSTER COUNTY (population 9,267).
Positive results: 137
Brewster County: 14.8 cases per 1000 people
Texas average: 5.5 cases per 1000 people
SRSU mass testing from June 18-20 resulted in 46 positive cases out of 759 tests (6% positivity rate)
Alpine MTTs on June 23rd found 61 positive cases out of 214 tests (28.5% positivity rate)
For the tri-county area (Presidio Co, Brewster Co, Jeff Davis Co):
Total tests done: 2412
Negative results: 1422
We will continue to request updated results from the County and post on our website. Please note that there may be a delay in reporting on some of the websites (hence a slight difference in numbers).
We had a robust Emergency City Council meeting last evening that resulted in modifying our Emergency Ordinance to include Section II of the County executive order on the wearing of face coverings. The updated Ordinance and video from the meeting can be found on our City Website.
There is continued discussion on the wearing of face coverings (implications, health data, civil liberties, etc...). I'll offer up the following articles for review.
UT Southwestern Medical Center Article
Global News Article
Today Article on Great Clips Hairstylists in Missouri
The United States has spent over $100 Billion over the last ten years on Emergency Preparedness (up to and including how to treat and react to infectious diseases). Those 'experts' are finally rallying around the common message on effective disease prevention: face coverings, hand washing and social distance.
Yes, these are changes we all have to adjust towards. It is easy for some, tough for others. My sense is the next two years will be modifications towards plans and strategies that work to keep folks healthy, are schools educating and the economy flourishing. Finding that blend that works is super important.
Thank you for the continued engagement in our meetings and the emails and calls to your elected officials and City Hall.
June 24, 2020, 9:00 A.M.
Thank you all who joined our Emergency City Council Meeting last evening on Zoom. The Mayor and City Council engaged in good dialogue on the impacts of wearing masks and agreed upon a direction for Alpine in the short term. Thank you Rod Ponton for the added information in your City Attorney report (that report is posted on our website).
The Ordinance that was passed will be posted on our City Website shortly - once we tidy up the amendments and have the Mayor, City Attorney and City Secretary sign it.
In a nutshell, the City will be providing signage for the local businesses to post. It will be one of two signs that the business owner can choose from.
The first one will be in Green and state: "In order to minimize the spread of Covid-19, a condition of entrance into this building or on the premises requires wearing of a face mask that covers the nose and mouth"
The second one will be in Yellow and state: "Masks to minimize the spread of Covid-19, while recommended, are not a requirement for entrance into this building or on the premises."
There are no associated fines with the Ordinance, rather a push to gain awareness on the importance of wearing a mask and heightened visibility for residents before they enter a business premise.
Our latest results for Brewster County that Dr. Escovar shared with me last evening (10:19pm) after our Council meeting
Here is what we have as of Tuesday, June 23nd for BREWSTER COUNTY.
Positive results: 53
Active Cases: 50
For the tri-county area:
Total tests done: 1534
Tests pending results: 791
Negative results: 683
As many of you are aware, there is a delay between our Local Health Authority and Judge being notified, and DSHS getting the stats up on the State site and Worldmeter. We will continue to work to get out the information in as timely a manner as possible.
If you are wondering how our case count compares to the rest of Texas and the US.
Total Cases per 1Million Population:
USA : 7328
Texas : 4311
We have more than doubled the cases per capita in Texas and are now higher than the average across the rest of the Country.
Please be safe in your community endeavors. We continue to advocate the health and safety guidelines as provided by the CDC and DSHS, plus will share added research and case studies on the effectiveness of wearing a mask.
June 18, 2020, 9:30 A.M.
As the week progresses, we continue to see more and more cases in Alpine, Marfa and the region. The state of Texas 7-day rolling average of new cases and hospitalizations continues to climb. Contact tracing is in full effect with the assistance of our regional and local health authorities.
With the work of Pete Gallego (SRSU President) and assistance of Luis Saenz (Governor Abbott's Chief of Staff), we have a Strike Force assembling in Alpine today to provide Covid-19 testing free of charge to the community. The testing will continue through Saturday. Adjoining communities residents are also welcome to come get testing. The flyer advertising the testing is posted on our website: https://www.cityofalpine.com/news_detail_T10_R128.php
I encourage everyone to go get tested (knowledge is important).
This article really gives good credibility to the positive impacts of wearing a mask to help minimize the spread of Covid-19.
Our attorney is researching the enforceability side of a new mask ordinance and will get back with Council on that research. This will help determine the next actions that Council will contemplate.
We at the City advocate the use of masks, proper hygiene and good social distancing.
We have suspended our Recreation Program for the remainder of this week and will continue to address weekly.
Please continue to look to our website for additional information on all the activities in the community and preventative measure updates.
June 15, 2020, 11:30 A.M.
Last Friday I posted a blog discussing how we have had zero confirmed cases here in Alpine at that juncture. Fast forward through the weekend and we now have nine active cases in Alpine. Many of you have seen the updates through social media and the press releases by the County Judge and AISD Superintendent.
The City of Alpine has it's normally scheduled City Council meeting tomorrow (June 16, 2020) at 5:30pm. We encourage you all to join the Zoom conference to learn more about the City's response and the responses within the community.
I would like to encourage you all to re-read the article that Dr. Escovar shared with us back in late April preparing for the reopening of many retail and restaurants (https://www.cityofalpine.com/Employer%20Recommendations.pdf
). That article gives some sage advice on practices in the business settings to complement what was outlined in the Governor's plan to reopen Texas.
A second article I would like to direct you all to review is the CDC recommendation on mask-wearing (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html
). As the topic of whether to wear masks became somewhat controversial in our community, I would ask everyone to rethink the guidance and engage in mask wearing when entering public stores, restaurants and businesses. If you are engaging in outdoor activities with people from different households, the guidance is to wear masks in those settings as well.
More information will be on the way as the results from the 61 people tested last Thursday continue to trickle in. If you are feeling ill, I would recommend you contact your Primary Care Physician (PCP) to discuss next steps.
June 12, 2020, 9:00 A.M.
It's hard to believe we are fast approaching the middle of June and before we know it 2020 will be 50% complete. What a busy first half of the year across the globe and also here in Alpine. Many changes have occurred, primarily in reaction to our response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Brewster County has only experienced one positive test case of Covid-19 and that was in the southern part of our County. There are 61 new tests performed at the mobile clinic yesterday for Alpine residents - we'll start seeing those results shortly. As most people are aware, Texas is the 7th worst state when it comes to testing per 1M in population - a number we certainly want to improve upon. Our Mayor was on a recent call with Senator John Cornyn urging support for greater levels of testing across the state. In Texas, we are used to being in the top quartile, not the bottom.
There is still a lot the physicians and scientists do not know about Covid-19 and it's longer term effects on the body. We urge our citizens to use precaution in your activities, up to and including good social distancing behaviours and wearing a mask, as our health care industry works on potential solutions (drugs, vaccines, etc...) to help the human body deal with the virus. The state of Texas is seeing a continuous rise in case counts and hospitalizations as a result of the Covid-19 virus. Many of our close proximity counties are also seeing that trend.
We have been discussing our Parks, Recreation and Pool program at the last several City Council Meetings. There have been several emails into City Hall urging the City to open the pool for the remainder of the summer. We will continue to discuss at each upcoming City Council meeting as we are working to balance the health of our staff and our community. We also have very limited lifeguards on staff and no one in the region is training/certifying additional people. Most importantly, we have started a Parks and Recreation program that is being well received by the attendees. Hat's off to our staff in their work to provide nice activities daily. Please check our website each Friday for the next week's list of activities.
Stewart Ramser announced that he will be hosting Viva Big Bend again this year. They will be smaller venue sizes, but he certainly wanted to provide the music and livelihood this event provides annually. The dates are July 23rd-26th and all the information can be found at: http://vivabigbend.com/
We want to welcome Pete P. Gallego as the 13th President of Sul Ross State University. Most of our residents know Pete well as he grew up in Alpine and is a graduate of SRSU. What a nice compliment to the University and 'Pete' that the community is moving forward with a 'local'. His father was the driver behind desegregation in our public schools and the importance of that work around human rights has presented itself again most recently in our nation. The City of Alpine welcomes President Gallego to Sul Ross as their leader and we know he will bring great enthusiasm and direction to the University as it pivots into a new chapter of existence. President Gallego will be at our Zoom City Council meeting this Tuesday June 16th to discuss some of the short and mid-range goals for the University, plus how the City can help and assist in that vision. The City of Alpine organized into a formal city over 100 years ago in an agreement with the State which paved the way for Sul Ross (Texas Normal College at the time) to be located in Alpine. We've always loved the University and are excited about new students and new programs.
Have a great weekend!
May 29, 2020, 3:30 P.M.
As the month of May is coming to a close, we are seeing more and more activity emerging in the community and region. Big Bend National Park offered guidance on their re-opening plan this week ( https://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/news/big-bend-national-park-begins-to-re-open.htm
) and we understand that will drive traffic to the area. Our local restaurants, retail and bars have opened (to limited capacity) and we are generally seeing more foot-traffic through Alpine.
In reviewing the Covid-19 statistics this morning, Texas experienced 1669 new cases yesterday (pushing up our rolling 7-day average). Drilling down on that number I noticed Pecos County had 29 new cases yesterday (more than doubling their total cases from 27 to 56). Val Verde County also had 5 new cases yesterday. That prompted an email and call to our Local Health Authority - Dr. Ekta Escovar.
Dr. Escovar shared with me that contact tracing is still happening (and just started) so we don't have a ton more information. Pecos County's two areas of vulnerability and outbreaks are Ft. Stockton's long-term care facility and their jail. Both were tested thoroughly this past week. All the nursing home tests returned negative, but they have quite a few tests pending from their jail, so they are assuming that is the common denominator. Contact tracing will give more solid data. Of course, employees in both the nursing home AND jail still visit restaurants, families, neighbors, and grocery stores in town, so there is a high chance that others around them are also exposed/infected. She expects more COVID-19 tests to be done in this coming week.
The county will be releasing the information, as it becomes available, as press releases and to the Fort Stockton Pioneer so the recommendation is to keep an eye out for additional information there (the paper has a FB page that can be followed). https://www.fortstocktonpioneer.com/
Dr. Escovar still strongly recommends that folks in our community avoid going to Fort Stockton, if at all possible. Furthermore, anyone who has recently traveled to Fort Stockton should do a strict 14-day self-quarantine period upon their return to see if they begin to show symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
She also stressed that COVID-19 testing in Mexico is not free, so although there are 11 COVID-19 lab-confirmed cases in Ojinaga, there are more presumed COVID-19+ cases in individuals who could not afford the test but had the right constellation of symptoms. Due to the constant traffic between Ojinaga and Presidio, they should be treated as one entity and both moved to our list of high-risk locations to avoid at this time (along with Fort Stockton).
She will continue to keep the governing authorities apprised of activities in our neighboring Counties.
The City of Alpine will have our regularly scheduled City Council meeting on Tuesday evening June 2nd at 5:30pm. That meeting will be on Zoom and further updates will be available.
We are starting our recreation program with our Parks this next week. We are posting that schedule today on our website. This is something new for our team and we appreciate the participation and feedback.
Please reach out with any questions and/or concerns,
May 13, 2020, 5:30 P.M.
Today marks 12 days since our restaurants and retail stores started re-opening. Judge Cano issued the following press release late yesterday (https://www.cityofalpine.com/Press%20Release-%20COVID-19%20Report%20&%20Attestation.pdf ) with the attestation to allow the restaurants and retail store to expand to 50% occupancy
Across our community there has been concern raised to our Council and Staff relative to the probability of heightened Covid-19 cases as we begin to re-open. This is a repeated concern shared by many and our Council has worked hard to balance the needs of our businesses in the community and the health/safety needs of our citizens. The following article was shared with me this week ( https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them ) and is one of several articles out there speaking to safe ways and methods to open businesses and other public venues.
We did get the rest of the results from the initial 180+ tests between Brewster and Presidio Counties with only one positive test. That person has since recovered. Overall, this is positive news for our Counties.
This past Sunday Ft. Davis (Sunday, May 10th) had 71 people tested. Presidio had another 17 people tested on Monday, May 11th). Marfa has testing coming up Thursday May 14th.
These series of tests will continue to help give us a better picture of the infection rates in the Tri-County area.
The Governor's Order (GA-18) and report to Open Texas on April 27th spelled out the desire by the Governor to prohibit any local orders superseding his plan. Our Mayor and Council have honored that wish by allowing the City Emergency Order to expire on April 30, 2020 and move to help businesses open safely as spelled out in the Open Texas Guide. Our City has also taken the position to help people in need with Shopping and also provide a good set of local guides (provided by our LHA Dr. Ekta Escovar) to continue to help flatten the curve. Our City took a positive position on wearing masks and how that helps lower disease transmission. We've also had many industrious individuals in Alpine making masks and sharing with others (thank you for that).
Instead of waiting for higher level political figures to tell us what to do, we've taken the approach of being mindful in our dealings with others and pulling together sets of best practices. These are actions we can implement daily to give others around us the lowest probability of getting sick if this virus does come to Alpine in a heightened fashion.
Our restaurants have done a lot of communicating with our staff on best practices and we are grateful to the thought and commitment they are putting into Alpine and their businesses. Our hoteliers and short-term-rental operators are focused on their cleaning and turnover protocols to help ensure their guests have a positive and safe experience. Our retail stores have been working on spreading out merchandise and keeping their patrons to the smaller minimum. We appreciate these efforts. Is everyone perfect...the answer is 'no'. Most importantly we appreciate the effort to make changes and the consistent communication back to Chief Martin and his staff.
The question I hear surfacing more and more now is; 'when will we get back to normal?'. Beyond that, we hear questioning on what a 'new normal' will look like.
The answer I continue to share with staff is: 1. do your part, don't go to work or out in public if you are sick 2. wear a mask when in a public setting and 3. be mindful in social gatherings (distance and preferably outdoors). The summer makes this much easier for us.
Hats off to Chief Martin and his staff. They are a great team and have really rallied around our citizens, businesses and their safety. Hats off to our Mayor and City Council for pushing us to show care and concern for the safety of our citizens, while trying to construct ways to re-open businesses. Many thanks to Dr. Ekta Escovar for her timely work through this pandemic. She has taken on the role of LHA and worked hard to find the best solutions for our County and City.
The people of Alpine are witty, innovative and supportive of each other. Yes, change is tough...but being amongst people that are thoughtful and tenacious gives us the best probability for success.