Jason Stephens | April 17, 2020 | Texas Law
Most governors in the United States have issued various orders that require residents in those states to shelter in place. Referred to as “Stay at Home” or “Shelter in Place” orders, some people have questioned whether these orders rise to the level of martial law.
Texans Advised to Limit Personal Interactions
In his Executive Order on March 31, Gov. Abbot extended the closure of schools through May 4 and extended social distancing guidelines until April 30. The order also addressed other issues related to essential services and activities protocols.
Failing to comply with an executive order issued during the COVID-19 disaster can be punished by incarceration in jail up to 180 days and a fine of up to $1,000. However, Governor Greg Abbott has argued that his orders are not martial law.
During a briefing, Gov. Abbott stated that “shelter in place” and “stay at home” were not terms that apply to his executive orders. Instead, the orders are designed to encourage the distancing practices articulated by President Trump and the Centers for Disease Control.
Gov. Abbott stressed that Texans are not required to stay at home or shelter in place. They are free to leave their home for essential activities. Texans are expected to limit personal interactions that can spread the coronavirus.
How is this Different from Martial Law?
Our civil institutions continue to maintain control over our country. Elected state and federal governments are in control of our executive, judicial, and legislative activities.
When the military assumes control over civil functions, martial law exists. Rumors regarding martial law began when the federal government mobilized the National Guard and state governors began issuing executive orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. These actions are not examples of martial law.
The United States Department of Defense’s Response to Rumors of Martial Law
The U.S. Department of Defense has created a website devoted to coronavirus rumor control. It states that rumors during a crisis can easily circulate through communities. It provides links to trusted resources including:
- The Defense Department’s website for its COVID-19 response
- USA.gov’s coronavirus website
- Centers for Disease Control
- The joint COVID-19 website by The White House, CDC, and FEMA
The Defense Department also advises getting information directly from state and local government websites.
The Department of Defense addresses several myths about the coronavirus response on its website. One myth states that the U.S. military is implementing martial law.
That fact is that Defense Secretary Esper has already debunked the myth of martial law in response to COVID-19 in remarks he made on March 23, 2020.
Secretary Esper stated that President Trump had mobilized National Guard troops to assist in various operations in some states. These troops remain under the control of and are managed by the state governments. Mobilizing the troops under Title 32 merely provides access to federal resources.
Secretary Esper said, “To be clear, this is not a move toward martial law.”
In a press conference on March 22, 2020, about the COVID-19 response, Chief of the National Guard Bureau Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel clearly stated that there was no truth to the rumor that the National Guard was being mobilized to “military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines.”
What can you do during COVID-19 in Texas?
During the COVID-19 crisis, you can take steps to slow the spread of the virus and protect yourself and your family members from being exposed to the virus. Following the guidelines given by federal and state governments and health organizations is the best way to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Steps to slow the spread include:
- Maintaining social distancing, including staying at home whenever possible. If you must leave home, remain at least six feet apart. Also, keep in mind that there is still traffic on the roads. Always avoid distractions and leave yourself plenty of time to arrive at your destination to avoid car accidents.
- Wear a cloth mask whenever you leave home. The mask does not prevent you from catching COVID-19, but it does help reduce the spread if you have the virus.
- Use hand sanitizer if you cannot wash your hands with soap and water.
- Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds numerous times throughout the day.
- Cover your mouth and nose with tissue if you sneeze or cough. Dispose of the tissue in the trash immediately.
- If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 or any concerning symptoms, contact your medical provider for instructions.
- Self-isolate if you believe you have been exposed to the coronavirus.
- Disinfect and clean surfaces that are commonly touched by people.
Working together, we can slow the spread of the coronavirus to save lives and enjoy a return to more normal daily routines soon.