Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is allowing his Stay at Home order issued in March to expire on Thursday and is filing a new one that will allow some businesses to reopen on Friday, May 1 as part of Phase 1 of his Open Texas plan (see the plan at the bottom of this article).
During a news conference in Austin Monday afternoon, Abbott said restaurants, malls, retail stores and movie theaters can reopen on May 1 but will be limited to 25% of their capacity. Museums and libraries are included, but interactive stations and exhibits must remain closed. Within malls, the governor said all food courts, play areas and interactive displays also must remain closed.
Thousands of non-essential businesses have been closed all across the state for several weeks since restrictions were first put into place to help slow the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus.
"This strategic approach to opening the state of Texas prioritizes the health and safety of our communities and follows the guidelines laid out by our team of medical experts," said Abbott in a prepared statement. "Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans' livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State."
Abbott said not all businesses could open at once and that bars, salons, gyms and barbershops are still ordered to remain closed for the time being. Abbott said he hoped they would be able to resume operations in mid May, provided COVID-19 outbreak is kept in check.
"Public swimming pools, bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades, and tattoo and piercing studios will remain closed through Phase I," the governor's office said. "Nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance."
Abbott said Texans are free to return to outdoor sports, such as golf and tennis, so long as there are no more than four participants and that players maintain social/physical distancing.
The governor is also allowing all licensed physicians to return to work, with limited restrictions including that hospital bed availability must hold back 15% for COVID-19 patients.
Local government operations, including county and municipal government operations relating to permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, may reopen as determined by the local government.
For counties where there are fewer than five confirmed cases of COVID-19, capacity at those businesses are allowed to hit 50% on May 1.
During Phase Two of Abbott's Open Texas plan, which is expected to start on or after May 18, businesses that opened on May 1 could expand capacity to 50%.
Additionally, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is issuing minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow. The state has published a guide, Open Texas, which outlines how businesses can open safely with standards for how businesses should handle employees and customers.
Tracking COVID-19 Cases in North Texas Counties
NBC 5 is tracking the number of COVID-19 related cases, recoveries and deaths in North Texas counties. Choose a county and click on a city or town to see how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting your area.
Cases are cumulative by day and are subject to change, dependent on each county health department's reporting schedule and methodology. Data may be reported county-wide, by city or town, or not at all. Cases, recoveries and death counts in 'unspecified' categories are used as placeholders and reassigned by their respective counties at a later date.
Data: County Health Departments, NBC 5 Staff
Monday afternoon Abbott also announced a new statewide testing and contact tracing program. Developed and implemented by DSHS, this program will help identify individuals who have contracted COVID-19 and those who may need to quarantine or be tested due to potential exposure. This phased implementation will allow Texans to box in the virus and slow, or even stop, further spread.
Lastly, Abbott issued Executive Order GA-20 to eliminate the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for individuals traveling from Louisiana. Under GA-20, the mandated 14-day quarantine for travelers from the following areas remains in place: California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan, and Miami, Florida.
Last week, the state began the process of re-opening businesses by allowing several retailers to offer “retail-to-go” services. Those businesses that adopt the method will be able to sell items online and allow customers to come to the store for curbside pickup.
In addition, Abbott announced an easing of restrictions on elective surgeries last week.
Late Monday night, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued a statement in response to Gov. Abbott's plan, saying: “The first priority of those you elect is to keep you safe. I've asked Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang and physician leaders, including those specializing in infectious disease and epidemiology from area hospitals, to carefully review the Governor's orders and will wait to hear from them. Most other plans that open businesses in phases don’t put places like movie theaters in the first group to open. The orders have changed but the science that will keep us safe has not. I believe North Texans will focus not on “what can they do” but rather “what should they do”. It will be imperative for North Texans to make good choices particularly where these orders veer from the advice of public health experts. Following science is the best way to keep safe and open the economy.”
Texas Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said that while everyone wants businesses to reopen as soon as possible, he was disappointed Abbott didn't reveal more details on how COVID-19 testing would increase.
"We’re near last in the nation on per capita testing and Gov. Abbott didn’t present a clear plan how that’s going to change, even though experts agree that widespread testing is essential to any reopening plan," Turner said in a statement. “Additionally, cases continue to increase – for example, last week Tarrant County reported a weekly high number of nearly 800 new cases. Statewide, we saw a day-today jump of 967 cases this weekend, one of the highest ever. The data directly contradicts what Gov. Abbott is saying, which causes great concern."
Turner said an incremental approach to reopening Texas businesses makes some sense, "but until we have proven additional testing capacity and an actual downward trajectory in new cases, the plan is not actually based on data or science.”
Turner was also concerned about what will happen to the workforce if they are infected with COVID-19.
“Will they get sick days or workers compensation if they contract COVID-19? Do we have enough PPE supplies for everyone going back to work?" Turner asked. “We still have more questions than answers, and the continued lack of transparency and accuracy in communicating data should be of great concern for every Texan."
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
The Governor's Report to Open Texas
NBC 5's Julie Fine contributed to this report.
Editor's Note: It was originally reported in this article that the governor was requiring 50% of hospital beds be kept available for potential COVID-19 patients -- that number is 15%. We regret the error.