Supplemental order to County disaster declaration re-opens private parks

County Judge Chris Schuchart issued a supplemental order on April 17 authorizing privately owned recreational parks to remain open for daily visitors, after initially ordering them to close altogether in an April 9 amendment to Medina County’s local disaster declaration, first made on March 18 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The supplemental order for private parks came following Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA 16, also issued on April 17, which clarified the use of parks.

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Privately owned parks can now welcome daily visitors, hunters, fishers, and those engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, as long as precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are maintained.

All visitors must wear face masks, maintain a six-foot distance between people, not gather in groups larger than five, and minimize in-person contact with those who are not in the same household.

Overnight stays are still prohibited.

Retail services at private parks can reopen at 12:01 am on April 24, if services are provided via pickup, mail, or doorstep delivery.

Schuchart and the County Commissioners discussed the issue of people congregating at parks during the Commissioners Court meeting on April 9, prior to the then-upcoming Easter weekend.

“Hondo’s already issued an order, they’ve closed their playgrounds down in the city and municipal parks,” Schuchart said. “I don’t feel too worried about because they’re in a city and law enforcement is going to be driving by those places. In Castroville I know they’re always driving through the park and the same thing in Hondo. I think the mayors need to deal with that, and they will.”

The City of Devine closed its public parks on April 2, though the walking track at Briscoe Park remains open. Users must maintain social distancing restrictions.

Enforcing those restrictions at private parks is more problematic.

“Here’s the problem – social gathering rules, 10 [people] and under, unless you’re from the same household,” Schuchart said. “So you take two families that go out there, they’re immediately violating the rules if they’re not in the same household, and then you’ve got to have six feet apart if you’re not in the same household. Policing that, I think, is going to be impossible.”

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Precinct 3 Commissioner David Lynch said he hated the idea of punishing the owners of private parks for guests who don’t abide by social distancing rules, rather than the guests themselves.

Emergency Management Coordinator Keith Lutz said Abbott’s orders keep getting stricter because of those who refuse to follow social distancing guidelines, but that Medina County doesn’t have the manpower to enforce those guidelines at private parks.

“So now we’re going to take the few deputies we have, and we’re going to stick them in there with people that are coming out of San Antonio, and we want them to sit there writing tickets to them all…I just think it’s too big of an issue,” Lutz said. “And I think, again, the reason why they keep getting stricter is because people won’t follow the rules. And I think that’s just where we are here.

“We don’t have the ability to truly enforce this entire county and say ‘we can just go cite all these people,’ even though we’d love to.”

The next Commissioners Court meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 23 at 9:00 am.

By Marly Davis

Staff Writer