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Live Updates: Out of Coronavirus Precaution, Closures Begin In The Big Bend And Permian Basin

Travis Bubenik
Out of concern for the coronavirus, several tourism attractions, businesses and schools in the Big Bend region are taking precautions and closing their doors.

As of this week, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Permian Basin or Big Bend Region. Testing capabilities are limited in the tri-county area, however — with healthcare officials saving what few resources for testing there are for the most severe cases.

Several schools, businesses and tourism attractions are taking precautions and closing their doors out of concern for the pandemic. The closures come during Spring Break season when the area sees a significant spike in visitors.

Editor's note: This post will be updated as more information is available.

What's Closed?

Beginning Thursday, March 19 at 8 a.m., the City of Marfa will enact new measures in effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Those changes include restaurants switching to takeout or delivery only, the closing of all bars, fitness clubs and churches and barring gatherings of 10 or more people.

The city also says beginning March 23, all hotels, motels and short term rentals—like Airbnbs and VRBOs—will close to the pubic. It's unclear how the new measures will be enforced. The changes will stay in place for at least one week.

As of March 17, all visitor centers and entrance stations at Big Bend National Park are closed until further notice "to protect employees and the visiting public from the coronavirus pandemic." Despite the closures, the park is technically still open . However, services are limited.

Jeff Davis County Courthouse will be closed the week of March 16. Monday afternoon, Presidio County officials also announced changes to the courthouse hours. Effective immediately, Presidio County Courthouse is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The rest of the day will be used to sanitize the building, according to a press release. No tourists will be allowed to tour the courthouse and the courthouse dome is also closed.

In Marfa, City officials are closing the Nutrition Center next week, March 16-20. All meals will be home delivered.

The Marfa Public Library will be closed to the public for one week. They will reopen on Monday, March 23 at 9 a.m. 

All other City services will continue to run as normal, according to the city.

The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is closing its visitors center Friday at 5 p.m. The center will remain closed through at least April 19. Science operations will still continue. Visitors who have booked tickets to public programs—like the observatory's popular star parties—will receive full refunds.

The Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum in Marfa, is closing its doors for the next two weeks after they say West Texas health officials recommended the decision.

The Judd Foundation is also suspending any public programs or guided tours of their art spaces in Marfa and New York for at least the next 4 weeks.

The Davis Mountains Preserve—which was scheduled to open this weekend—will now only be open until late Friday afternoon. All camping and indoor programs are canceled.

McDonald Observatory canceled a recent Star Party due to weather, as the program moves indoors when conditions aren't friendly to star-viewing. "With the large crowds expected during Spring Break, the Observatory feels these cloudy-night programs may pose an unnecessary health risk to our visitors and staff," they wrote in a Facebook post. For the time being, the observatory is moving forward with outdoor viewing parties.

Fort Davis Independent School District is canceling in-person instruction this week. Instead, students will use laptops for daily instruction.

In Alpine, Blue Water Natural Foods Company is closing indefinitely out to concerns over the coronavirus. The store’s last day open will be Tuesday, March 17.

The  Unitarian Universalists of the Big Bend church in Alpine has suspended services until the end of March.

On Monday, Sul Ross University in Alpine said they won't have face-to-face classes for the remainder of the semester. All upcoming university events have been canceled as well. On Saturday, March 14, Sul Ross University President Bill Kibler announced a week's worth of emergency paid leave for various employees, including student workers. The dining hall on campus will only offer to-go meals now.

Marfa Independent School District is canceling classes for Friday, March 13, meaning students will start Spring break a day early. In a letter to parents and guardians, Marfa ISD superintendent Oscar Aguero says, "this extra day will provide our custodial and maintenance teams an extra day of cleaning and disinfecting of all classrooms, desks, and materials." Classes are set to resume March 24.

Alpine Montessori School is extending its Spring Break for another two weeks. Students at the school are now expected to return on March 30. Presidio ISD is also still in session.  The Big Bend Sentinel/Presidio International will provide more updates in Presidio as we get them.

Midland ISDis extending its Spring Break by two weeks. Classes will be closed the weeks of March 16 and the 23. Ector County ISD, which covers most of Odessa, will also be closed during that time.

Valentine ISD will be closed Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27. Superintendent Debbie Engle said the district will monitor the coronavirus situation and is working to provide remote instruction.

The University Interscholastic League has canceled two upcoming events — the UIL CX Debate State Tournament and the UIL State Robotics FIRST Tech Challenge — until further notice.

What's Open?

State Parks will also remain open. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says if needed—they’ll “adjust accordingly.” Right now, TPWD says parks are taking precautions "to help prevent the potential spread of the virus."

For a list of Marfa-specific business closures and hours, see the Big Bend Sentinel's post.

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.