This is a developing story and will be updated.
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday announced that hair salons could open on Friday — a move that came less than a week after he began easing social distancing restrictions on restaurants and retail stores.
Gyms could open under certain circumstances on May 18, Abbott added.
The easing of more restrictions comes amid pressure from Republicans and some business owners for Abbott to move more quickly on an economic restart. On Tuesday, two Republican lawmakers sought out haircuts in Montgomery County in defiance of Abbott’s order.
Salons, barbershops, nail salons and tanning salons will be able to reopen Friday. On May 18, gyms can start letting in a limited number of customers who must wear gloves and maintain six feet of distance. Showers and locker rooms at gyms must remain closed.
Nonessential manufacturers may also resume production on May 18 if they keep occupancy at 25% and keep their workers six feet apart.
The announcement also comes as Dallas County reports the highest daily increase in new coronavirus cases. Experts warn more time is needed to determine whether the first wave of reopenings on May 1 is causing a surge in new coronavirus cases.
Reaction from Democrats came even before Abbott’s press conference was over. Grand Prairie Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner tweeted: “I thought we were waiting to see if the first round of re-opening caused COVID-19 spikes before making decisions on additional openings? It’s been four days.”
I thought we were waiting to see if the first round of re-opening caused COVID-19 spikes before making decisions on additional openings? It’s been four days. #txlege
— Chris Turner (@ChrisGTurner) May 5, 2020
Abbott also clarified Tuesday that weddings, funerals and memorials can occur in Texas, so long as participants observe social distancing, such as alternating rows and maintaining six feet between groups. “Whether it be for attending church, attending a funeral memorial burial or a wedding, we strongly encourage at risk populations to try to watch or participate remotely,” he said.
Abbott’s move to reopen businesses came the same day when the Quorum Report, an Austin insider newsletter, reported that Abbott told lawmakers in private that reopening business would lead to increased spread of the disease.
“It’s almost ipso facto, the more that you have people out there the greater the possibility there is for transmission,” Abbott said in leaked audio of a phone call with state and federal lawmakers. He had made similar statements about increased transmission when reopening occurs in interviews at least two times in the last two weeks.
The governor’s updates at the state capitol came two days before he is slated to travel to Washington D.C. to meet with President Trump, Politico has reported.
On May 1, the two-term Republican governor began letting restaurants, retail stores and movie theaters open statewide at 25% percent capacity. But some Republicans complained he did not go far enough.
As Abbott opens up more segments of the economy, experts warn there may not be enough time between now and then to judge whether loosening restrictions have prompted a wave of new coronavirus cases.
Dallas County reported 253 more coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest single-day jump since the pandemic began. It also reported another seven deaths. County Judge Clay Jenkins has urged residents to stay home.
There are also concerns that businesses are not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, who sits on Abbott’s task force for reopening the Texas economy, criticized home improvement superstores for not enforcing health and safety guidelines.
“I’m tired of navigating a germ pool in an overcrowded Lowe’s, Home Depot, and WalMart,” he said. “They haven’t dealt with the devastation of having to turn customers away and yet their behavior might be what keeps hair salons and gyms closed and restaurants at restricted capacity.”
He placed the blame on corporate leaders and said they were slowing the reopening of other businesses, particularly small businesses that are suffering financially from having to close down during the state’s stay-at-home order.
Abbott faced pressure from state lawmakers and business leaders to allow barber shops and hair salons to open. They argued that these businesses could create guidelines to appropriately social distance and follow other health guidelines to mitigate COVID-19.
Shelley Luther, the owner of a hair salon in Far North Dallas, earned statewide attention when she defied the governor’s orders and reopened her salon last Wednesday. She tore up a cease and desist letter sent by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and ignored a restraining order by a state district judge. On Tuesday, state District Judge Eric Moye sentenced Luther to seven days in jail for violating the restraining order.
Instead of scolding her for breaking his directive, Abbott reached out to Luther for advice on how to reopen salons in the state. James Huffines, the head of Abbott’s task force to reopen business, called her for input.
Still, the pressure built on Abbott. Early Tuesday, television news cameras followed Reps. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, as they broke with Abbott and entered a salon to cut their hair.