During a news conference Friday afternoon in which he laid out his plan for reopening businesses across the state in the coming days and weeks, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said all schools in the state must remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
Abbott said he has been advised that it would be unsafe to allow people to gather at schools at this time and ordered classrooms closed for the remainder of the year.
"Today's executive order also addresses schools. The team of doctors advising us have determined that it would be unsafe to allow students to gather in schools for the foreseeable future. As a result, school classrooms are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year," Abbott said. "That includes, all public, private and higher education institutions."
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Classes can still be held online and teachers are going to be allowed to return to school for video instruction if they wish or to perform administrative duties or to clean out their classrooms.
The governor said schools, including public, private K-12 programs as well as colleges and universities, would receive guidance on how to conclude programs and hold graduations as well as how to offer summer semesters.
New Executive Orders
Gov. Abbott said Friday he was putting in place a number of new executive orders that would act as exceptions to his Stay at Home order that expires on April 30 and would outline which businesses can open and when.
Those decisions will be made by a newly-created Statewide Strike Force to Open Texas that will be made up of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glen Hager.
The governor's strike force would be joined by nationally recognized medical advisors who will advise how businesses can be reopened while continuing to advise how to best curtail further spread of the virus. The advisory committee includes Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt, Dr. Mark McClellan, the former federal administrator of Medicaid and Medicare, Dr. F. Parker Hudson, an assistant professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas and Dr. John Zerwas, with the UT system. Those doctors will work with Texas business leaders, including Kendra Scott, Mattress Mack, Michael Dell, Robert Smith, Ross Perot and others.
The governor said the decision to open businesses will be guided by data and doctors and that whatever decisions are made must continue to protect those vulnerable to infection and not allow for further spread of the virus.
Abbott said Friday that in the coming days and weeks businesses would be allowed to reopen in stages and that obviously not all businesses can reopen at once. Those businesses that are going to be allowed to open first are those that will pose no threat or a minimal threat of spreading the virus.
The governor said state parks will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 20, but that visitors must wear face coverings or masks, they must maintain a distance of at least six feet from others who are not in their household and they must not gather in groups larger than five.
Abbott said that on April 22 that current restrictions on elective surgeries will be removed. The governor said that the need to postpone non-essential procedures has passed since the state has plenty of hospital bed vacancy and because a solid supply chain of personal protective equipment has been established for doctors and nurses.
Beginning next Friday, April 24, Abbott said he believes retail stores should be able to offer retail services "to go," to allow for product pickup with minimal contact with others.
Abbott expected to announce on April 27 what other types of businesses can reopen and what the standards and practices for them to follow will be. He said further guidance on openings will extend into the month of May.
Jonathan Heath, founder of the Vaquero Coffee Company, said he hopes businesses like his will have clearer guidance on the next steps in the next two weeks.
The coffee shop on Houston Street in Fort Worth opened less than two years ago. It has lost between 50 to 60 percent in revenue over the month, Heath said.
"Specifically we’re located, we rely on court workers and administrators from the county, the county clerks, anybody that works in downtown through the court system, government, or in the private sector with the vast hours or anybody that works in Sundance Square. That is our core group of customers," Heath said. "You know what? They’re not here anymore."
Benjamin Hudgins, founder of Novak Hair Studios, said a targeted date for reopening is crucial. For salon owners like him, there are several moving parts in terms of reopening such as scheduling appointments.
"I really do wish we had a little more of a clear idea of kind of when that rollout would be for some of those non-essentials that do have a little more personal connection like hairdressing or dining into restaurants," Hudgins said. "A lot of stylists are really good at what they do and so therefore, they are booked already pretty far in advance."
While waiting for the next steps, Hudgins said his company has already begun thinking about proactive measures they will be putting into place in the interest of public health once they are eventually able to reopen.
"We’ve already created a new guideline of how we’re going to space out our stylists, so we can have people in whenever we do open back up and make sure that we are covering our faces, and we have hand sanitizer and we ask our guests to not necessarily bring people with them when they would normally do that," he said. "At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we’re safe. We offer a public service. We do affect a lot of people’s lives."
Heath said though the announcement Friday did not clarify when restrictions for every industry will be loosened, it does send a signal that movement is happening.
"Health and welfare of people during this is most important," Heath said. "As far as the economics are concerned and getting us back to work and back to business, that is an immediate second and any steps we’re taking to discuss and move forward, gives me a lot of hope that things are going to begin easing in the near future."
Texas' DSHS has published a guide on how businesses can reopen safely for both employees and customers -- that guide can be seen here.
Though the news was welcomed by Cristina Lynch, founder of Dallas based clothing Mi Golondrina, she said she doesn't plan to add in a curbside pickup service, at least for now.
Her company' s already undergone drastic changes in the last few weeks, shifting those who work in the store to help with online sales.
"I think we’re all working at max capacity. And I think that’s true for so many businesses right now. People are doing things that they don’t normally do," said Lynch.
She also worries changing operations now would mean they couldn't keep the social distancing standards they've put into place.
“We don’t want too many people in the store at once. I still have employees that are worried about being near one another, so that’s something that’s a huge priority is to make sure that they feel safe and comfortable while working at Mi Golondrina," said Lynch.
Still, she knows next Friday's changes will be welcome and beneficial to many in the community. She's also optimistic it means she'll be welcoming customers back into her store sooner rather than later.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.