Gov. Greg Abbott pressed ahead with the state’s reopening Monday, allowing nearly all businesses and activities to resume at limited capacity, except in a handful of counties where COVID-19 outbreaks are still being contained.
“Our focus is to keep you safe while also restoring your ability to get you back to work,” said Abbott, a Republican.
Child care facilities including the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club are allowed to fully reopen, and restaurants already operating can expand to 50 percent of maximum occupancy beginning Friday.
Bars can reopen Friday as well, at 25 percent capacity. Camps and summer school will be allowed to follow in late May and early June, though the Boy Scouts has said it is still canceling in-person summer activities.
Youth and professional sports can resume later this month, but fans will be allowed only at youth events. Professional teams are waiting to see how outbreaks unfold in several states before deciding on whether to start up again.
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The announcement comes after the state reported its highest daily death count late last week at 58. New cases have also risen, though Abbott noted again Monday that the rate of people testing positive is falling, and that there are plenty of hospital beds and medical equipment to contain future outbreaks.
Daily testing has increased, though it is still short of the governor’s immediate 30,000 goal. State health officials say they still don’t have enough contact tracers to track down every reported infection.
Democrats accused the governor of rushing to reopen and ignoring recent increases in deaths and reported infections. New cases have ticked up over the past week, now averaging about 1,300 per day. At least some of that is likely the result of expanded testing, especially in Amarillo.
The governor has also ordered widespread testing for nursing home residents and inmates, which may impact the data as it rolls out.
“Last week he said he would be guided by doctors and data,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, said of the governor. “Today it’s clear he is simply cherry-picking data.”
Abbott has said that he expects new cases to grow as testing expands, and that the rate of positive results is a more relevant measure. The state reported about 25,000 tests per day on average over the last week, though that data includes at least some antibody tests, which are less reliable and aren’t meant to track infections.
The governor’s office said the number of antibody tests included in the testing total will be disclosed publicly going forward.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced the next phase of reopening the state. Here’s what has changed.
Guidelines: Social distancing and increased cleaning practices are still recommended for all operations. Orders are delayed by a week in five counties where with fresh outbreaks, including El Paso County.
Workplace rules: Businesses in office buildings can open with 25 percent of workforce or 10 employees, whichever is greater.
Child care centers: Can reopen, includes YMCA and Boys and Girls Club programs. Youth clubs such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can meet with a maximum of 10 participants.
Personal care services: Services such as massage and tattoo studios not previously covered can reopen; must provide at least 6 feet between workstations.
Health care: Elective medical procedures can continue.
Gyms: Allowed to reopen at 25 percent occupancy starting Monday; their childcare facilities remain closed.
Restaurants: Can increase occupancy to 50 percent of maximum capacity.
Bars, wine tasting rooms and craft breweries: Can reopen at 25 percent occupancy.
Entertainment businesses: Bowling alleys and some others can reopen at 25 percent occupancy. Water parks remain closed.
EFFECTIVE MAY 31
Youth camps: All summer camps can open, including overnight programs.
Youth sports: Little League and other programs can reopen.
Professional sports: Basketball, baseball, softball, football, golf, tennis and car racing can resume — without fans on site.
Effective June 1
Schools: Can reopen facilities for in-person instruction.
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Until now, child care was available only to essential workers. As they reopen further, advocates said it will be critical to monitor outcomes.
“During the pandemic, the safest option is for parents to keep their kids at home, so it will be important for employers to support remote working options and paid leave,” said David Feigen, with Texans Care for Children. “Additionally, it will be important for child care providers to closely follow the COVID-19 safety guidelines and requirements established by the state of Texas.”
State health officials still recommend that public gatherings be restricted to no more than 10 people, though it’s not an enforceable rule. Abbott barred local officials earlier this month from enforcing stricter standards.
Texas has been closely watched as reopenings continue nationwide. It avoided the early outbreaks that hit other states such as New York and Louisiana, but public health officials have warned that reopening too quickly could spark new surges.
Restrictions remain in place for El Paso and several counties in the Panhandle, where state officials are responding to outbreaks from meatpacking plants near Amarillo. Abbott said those counties will be able to further reopen a week from Friday.
Last week officials in El Paso asked the governor to delay their reopening, saying they aren’t ready to loosen restrictions, according to the Texas Tribune. El Paso now has one of the highest case counts in the state.
Dr. Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist, said Abbott’s approach continues to be reasonable.
“The main thing is that he’s doing this in a staged fashion and taking a pause to look at the data to see it’s going in the way you’d like it to be going before you move on to the next step,” Boom said.
It may be too soon to know how the first phase of reopenings impacted the state. Hospitalizations and deaths typically take several days to appear in the state’s data, and some businesses did not reopen immediately, even when given the go-ahead.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this report included an error about the reopening date for zoos. Zoos can reopen at 25 percent of their maximum occupancy as of May 29.