The Texas Department of Emergency Management has received more than 3,000 requests from businesses requesting a determination of whether they are considered essential under the state’s stay-at-home order.
The vast majority have failed to earn a designation that would allow them to keep their doors open.
Among the most common requests: Retailers of cannabidiol, or CBD, products, which have clashed with cities over the issue. Not essential, says emergency department spokesman Seth Christensen.
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Under the guidelines laid out in Gov. Greg Abbott’s March 31 order, a business must meet federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency guidelines to qualify as essential. The list includes food stores and their suppliers, pharmacies, airports and other transportation services, construction and related services, health care, the communications industry, hygiene and cleaning services, and more.
Abbott said cities and counties could enact stricter orders, but cannot be more lenient than the state.
Once the order was put in place, state emergency managers posted a form on the agency website where businesses that are not deemed essential — but want to make the argument that they should be — could request an answer. But Christensen said many applicants misunderstood the purpose and were asking questions rather than stating their case for staying open.
The CISA guidelines lay out which types of workers are essential under a broad list of categories but does not name business types, which has left room for creative interpretation.
Dog grooming businesses are another category that have often requested to be tagged as essential, but have been denied, Christensen said. While stores that have been declared essential, such as pet supply stores, may offer grooming, that does not mean grooming-only businesses also qualify.
“Just because I can go to Walmart and buy a lamp doesn’t mean all the lamp stores in Texas are essential services,” Christensen said. “The whole goal here is to ensure that we slow the spread and distance people and don’t put people in situations where they might come into contact with others who might have COVID-19.”
A guidance letter from the Texas attorney general’s office on Saturday gave golf courses the greenlight to reopen, saying that playing golf is allowed so long as courses practice social distancing. It also noted that restaurants at golf courses can continue to provide take-out or delivery options and that landscapers and other safety and sanitation workers are essential.
Another business type that did pass muster: RV sales.
“It has been brought to our attention that RV’s are being used for housing, including the housing needs of first responders who may need to be quarantined outside of their family home,” Christensen said. “Under DHS/CISA Guidance, ensuring individuals and families with ready access to available housing is covered as an ‘essential service’ under the Residential/Shelter Facilities and Services sector.”