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Jefferson County leaders say it’s critical to follow travel restrictions

Gov. Greg Abbott announced new travel restrictions this week for all travelers driving or flying in from Louisiana in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Southeast Texas, a region heavy with workers traveling to and from the border, understanding the mandate is essential. The executive order includes a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for all personal travelers. Drivers entering Texas will fill out a form designating a location where they will serve their quarantine. Texas officials will be able to make unannounced visits to ensure the quarantined person is following the rules.

Those found breaking the guidelines are subject to a $1,000 fine or confinement in jail for up to 180 days.

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick said it is critical for community members to follow the order.

“They’ve had an explosion of cases in Louisiana,” he said. “They are doubling every day and we are concerned about importing people over here who can widen community spread in our area.”

Branick said he wants to urge essential employees traveling from the state to take extra safety precautions and remain home when they are not at work.

“The sooner this is over, the sooner we can get back to work, get the economy up and running and keep the existential threat out,” he said.

County Commissioner Michael “Shane” Sinegal said he is in favor of the travel restriction order.

“Until we get a hold of this, we are having a large portion of our people in our county affected,” he said. “People are dying. I don’t know how else to say it. We are trying to get ahead of this and we still haven’t gotten a grasp of it yet. This order is very important step and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets even stricter.”

The Department of Public Safety will enforce all guidelines and the public can expect to see an increased law enforcement presence along the border.

“We are trying to give people the chance to really understand that they can’t continue to elevate the numbers,” Sinegal said. “It may only be a short time amount of time, but this order is essential to slow this thing down.”

Travel related to commercial activity, military, emergency, health care and critical infrastructure personnel are exempt.

Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce President Pat Avery said the restrictions will definitely challenge the city’s workforce.

“Being close to Louisiana, it is a fluid workforce,” she said. “You have workers that go both ways and it’s going to be hard to manage. The only word I’d want to use is challenging. I want to support what our government wants to do, but it’s going to be hard to manage.”

Southeast Texas’ largest industrial workforce is already beginning to feel the effects as members of the areas plants are receiving letters for exemption.

Golden Pass LNG, located off of Gulfway Drive in Sabine Pass, is taking measures to ensure plant personnel living or traveling through Louisiana are able to come to work.

“Our focus continues to be on the health and safety of our employees, our contractors and our community as we take the necessary steps to ensure a safe work environment,” a representative of the company said. “To minimize potential exposure, employees and contractors who are able to effectively work from home have been doing so since mid-March, but because Golden Pass is designated as essential infrastructure, according to federal guidelines, we are continuing to progress construction on site.”

Golden Pass employees traveling to and from Louisiana will carry a letter stating that they work for a designated critical infrastructure.

For personnel continuing to work, several measures have been implemented to ensure compliance with local, state and federal guidelines, including temperature checks, increased frequency of cleaning throughout the day, staggered lunch rotations and minimization of face-to-face meetings.

In compliance with the travel restriction guidelines provided by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, all critical infrastructure positions also must be registered with the state.

At this time, Golden Pass said they do not envision any impacts on workforce associated with travel restriction compliance.

The form for arrivals for road travelers is available online at https://www.dps.texas.gov/COVIDtravel/.