While Governor Abbott did not order a Shelter-In-Place (or now called Stay Home, Stay Safe directives) for the entire state of Texas due to 200 rural counties not being affected by COVID-19, that did not stop Texas’s most populated counties from doing so.
One-by-one, Dallas, Harris, Bexar along with Travis and Williamson Counties ordered its citizens to stay home except for “essential” tasks such as purchasing food. While Dallas, Harris and Bexar Counties issued very concise directives of what are considered “essential businesses” that may remain open, Travis and Williamson Counties were initially vague with theirs, specifically towards tradesman such as construction workers and landscapers. Dallas, Harris, and Bexar specifically mentioned that all tradesmen were allowed to continue to work. Something that Travis & Williamson did not specifically state, at least not initially.
According to Luke Cowen of Blades and Shades Landscaping, the day after the directive was enacted Williamson County clarified that Tradesmen including professional landscapers were considered to be “essential businesses” and were allowed to continue to work. Travis County on the other hand only allowed tradesmen to continue to work on low-income housing, housing for the homeless, and what the county and the City of Austin deem as municipality essential.
The City of Austin also carved out an exception to allow certain tradesmen such as electricians and plumbers to conduct “maintenance operations” such as unclogging a drain, but are not allowed to work on new construction except on those specific projects stated above. These exceptions did not carry over to landscapers, even for yard mowing and landscapers are prohibited from working in Travis County during the Shelter-In-Place/Stay Home order.
This is a serious concern since regular landscaping is considered a vital operation to maintaining the general health of the city. As listed on the National Association of Landscape Professionals and Texas Nursery & Landscape Association websites, Unmaintained landscaping can create health hazards such as harboring mice, rats, and poisonous snakes. The general unsanitary appearance of unmaintained landscaping can facilitate an increase in the crime-rate. Overgrown lawns and brush, come summertime and the seasonal drought, if left unchecked could become severe wildfire hazards. It has also been reported that City of Austin code enforcement is still enforcing the mowed lawn ordinance as well, however a lot of property owners contract with professional landscapers exclusively said property owners do not own their own equipment to perform yard maintenance themselves in order to avoid a code violation.
It should be viewed as foolishness that the elected officials in the City of Austin and Travis County are not allowing landscapers to continue to work. Landscapers and other tradesmen are some of the hardest working members of the general economy. Professional landscaping is a $98 billion industry that employees more than 1 million people in the United States. Many jobs such as lawn mowing landscapers often work solo. On larger projects with multiple landscapers, each landscaper works in their own specific area practicing good social distancing. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, professional landscape, lawn care and tree care companies take employee and client safety very seriously, employing regular safety training and enforcing strong safety standards on the job,
Many landscapers are also proprietor of their own businesses or self employed. By not being allowed to work, even for a few weeks can seriously affect these landscapers’ whole way of life — from their own personal expenses, to expenses related to their business, as well as the valuable service they provide to the community to help maintain its health and safety.