BELL COUNTY, Texas — Editor's note: Scroll to the bottom to see the list of Bell County businesses listed as "essential" in the updated county disaster declaration. 

Bell County Judge David Blackburn issued an updated stay-at-home order that clarified what businesses count as essential and how religious gatherings can meet. 

The amended order goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. March 27 and continues through 11:59 a.m. April 6.

"Directive number four is primarily being issued for clarification purposes," Blackburn said in a press conference Friday afternoon. "There are no major changes to the stay home, stay safe directive. All individuals, except for those conducting essential activities at an essential business or providing services for an essential business, should stay home."

Directive four, as it's being called, lists the types of businesses that are described as "essential" and can stay open while the stay-at-home order is in place.

New among the essential business list are gun shops, which were not previously explicitly included. 

"We have received multiple questions over the past few days about whether standalone gun shops are allowed to remain open," he said. "Previous directives did not categorize gun shops as essential businesses. There has been and continues to be some conflicting law on this question."

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion on the matter after receiving a request from Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) regarding the sale of firearms at the local level early Friday afternoon.

“State law provides several emergency powers to local governments to control movement within their region during a disaster, which serves our communities well during public health events like the one we’re fighting now. However, local regulation of the sale, possession, and ownership of firearms is specifically prohibited under Texas law,” Attorney General Paxton said in a press release.

In light of the change, Blackburn added that gun shops must still follow the same social distancing guidelines that all other businesses are being asked to follow.

The second change to the local disaster declaration regards the ability of churches to have members gather in groups of 10 or more. Before the latest update churches were prohibited from gathering in groups of more than 10 people - which effectively ended the ability of Bell County churches to host in-person services. 

"After reviewing the prohibition further and visiting with the governor's office and trying to stay in line and in concert with the directives coming down from the state, I have removed that prohibition from the directive," Judge Blackburn said.

He went on to read what the amended declaration includes regarding churches hosting congregations:

Nothing in this Order prohibits the gathering of members of a household or living unit or for purposes of worship. However, places of worship are strongly urged to heed and follow the guidelines for limiting the number of people gathering, utilizing alternative means for worship to include livestreaming and videoconferencing, and to follow the social distancing guidelines. The demographics of many faith-based organizations comprise significant numbers of the COVID19 high risk population group and gatherings in numbers greater than 10 puts those congregating at dire risk.

Businesses and services considered essential under the order include the following:

Essential Healthcare Operations

  • Dentistry
  • Pharmacy
  • Midwifery
  • Nursing
  • Optometry
  • Audiology
  • Psychology
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Mental health care providers
  • Healthcare suppliers
  • Substance abuse service providers
  • Blood banks
  • Medical research
  • Laboratory services
  • Home-based and residential-based care for seniors, adults, or children
  • Veterinary care

Essential Critical Infrastructure and Activities

  • Public works construction
  • Residential and commercial construction
  • Airport operations
  • Water, sewer, gas, and electrical
  • Oil refining
  • Public transportation
  • Solid waste collection removal and disposal
  • Internet and telecommunications systems (including the provision of essential global, national, and local infrastructure for computing services, business infrastructure, communications, and web-based services)
  • Financial institutions, including pay day lenders and pawn shops
  • Defense and national security-related operations and business that support such
  • Manufacturing operations
  • Distribution and logistics operations
  • Media, including newspaper, television, and radio
  • Childcare and daycare

Essential Retail

  • Grocery stores
  • Warehouse stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Gas stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Farmers’ markets
  • Food cultivation, including farming, fishing, and livestock
  • Food delivery services
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for pickup, delivery or carry out. In-room dining must be closed. The restriction of pickup, delivery, or carry out does not apply to cafes and restaurants located within hospital and medical facilities
  • Any entity that typically provide free services to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only.
  • Laundromats
  • Dry cleaners
  • Laundry service
  • Automobile and motorcycle sales
  • Auto-supply
  • Automobile, motorcycle and bicycle repair
  • Hardware stores
  • Construction supply stores
  • Gun stores
  • Businesses that supply products needed for people to work from home

Businesses supporting essential businesses, services needed at residences

  • Mail and shipping services
  • Residential and business cleaning and maintenance
  • Warehouse/distribution and fulfillment
  • Storage for essential businesses
  • Funeral homes and services relating thereto like crematoriums and cemeteries
  • Plumbers
  • Electricians
  • Exterminators
  • Lawn care services
  • Law offices
  • Real estate offices, not to include site visits for the purpose of showing a property
  • Title offices
  • Mortgage offices
  • Accounting offices
  • Office supply stores

You can read the entire updated Bell County order here

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