Austin, TX Patch
AUSTIN, TX — Gov. Greg Abbott issued an Executive Order Monday that will allow all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to operate at partial capacity by May 1 as he moves to a phased reopening of the state economy stalled by the new coronavirus outbreak.
Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas, and interactive displays and settings must remain closed as part of the order, Abbott said during his news conference staged at the state Capitol. Abbott said the order also will allow museums and libraries to reopen but with no greater than a 25 percent capacity of patrons.
In rural counties of Texas, shops and restaurants with fewer than five coronavirus cases can reopen up to 50 percent of occupancy. But Abbott said counties could revert back to more limited capacity if there is a new outbreak of coronavirus cases.
If a two-week flattening of the illness curve is seen after that initial phase of reopening, bars, gyms and hair salons will be allowed to reopen by mid-May, the governor said. Abbott said barbershops, hair salons, bars and gyms must still remain closed for now while expressing hopes those businesses will be able to resume business on or no later than mid-May
The governor said the state could lift more restrictions as soon as May 18, barring "flare-ups" of coronavirus cases, which he said will be measured by data that would include hospitalizations and deaths.
"It's hard to get rid of this virus because it is so contagious," Abbott said. "So we're not just going to open up and hope for the best. Instead we will put measures in place that will help businesses open but also contain the virus and keeping Texans safe."
The first phase of the plan also allows all licensed health professionals to reopen their clinics, although licensed hospitals must reserve 15 percent of their capacity for coronavirus patients. Churches and places of worship remain open under the newly issued order.. Outdoor sports are allowed to resume so long as no more than four participants are playing together at one time, according to the order.
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In prepping the state to be reopened, Abbott claimed the number of people recovering from coronavirus soon will exceed the number of active cases. Still, certain social distancing practices must continue to be followed. 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, Abbott added.
"We are Texans," Abbott said in the way of a rallying call. "We got this."
View Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas.
Abbott noted his new executive order no longer will mandate the wearing of protective face coverings — a key tool in mitigating the spread of illness — as the initial phases of reopening are underway in earnest. The governor noted that while the wearing of face coverings will continue to be encouraged, they will not be mandated and municipalities will not be able to assess fines to enforce them, as his order supersedes all local jurisdictions.
The gradual reopening is occuring because Abbott's "stay-at-home" order has "done its job," Abbott said. But he noted the reopening won't happen in one fell swoop to prevent another wave of illness. "We're not just going to open up and hope for the best," he said. "Opening Texas must occur in phases."
Related story: Coronavirus: Texas Outlines Guide To Attending Religious Services
Despite the order, business owners will be allowed to use their own discretion in opening their doors again even as the first phase of the econoy reopening begins. "This order allows all these businesses to reopen," Abbott said. "It does not require them to do so."
In tandem to the ropening, the Texas Department of State Health Services is issuing minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow, the governor said. Yet even as businesses are allowed to gradually reopen, Abbott said the first phase of that effort allows for continued protection of vulnerable populations such as senior citizens, who should continue to shelter in place to avoid getting sick.
On that front, the governor also outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. Further, the governor also announced a statewide testing and tracing program developed by the Department of State Health Services that will help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who contract coronavirus and mitigate further spread of the virus, Abbott said.
In providing details on the state reopening, the governor unveiled Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas — a detailed report, available on the strike force website, helps Texans understand phase one by outlining the new protocols, guidance, and recommendations. The report also includes a series of Open Texas Checklists that outline DSHS' minimum standard health protocols for all Texans.
"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,"Abbott said. "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."
Ahead of the reopening, the Department of State Health Services has recommended minimum standard health protocols for all individuals, all employers and employees, as well as industry-specific protocols for retailers, retail customers, restaurants, restaurant patrons, movie theaters, movie theater customers, museums and libraries, museum and library visitors, outdoor sports participants, single-person offices, and low COVID-19 counties.
These protocols are outlined in the Open Texas Checklists within the Governor's report beginning on page 20, Abbott noted. Essential services such as farmers and ranchers, grocery and drug stores, banks, and gas stations will continue to operate. 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. Nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance.
The governor also established increased occupancy protocols for certain counties with five or fewer laboratory confirmed cases of coronavirus. Those counties may, on an individualized basis, increase occupancy limits to up to 50 percent for restaurants, retail, shopping malls, museums and libraries and movie theaters if they meet certain criteria. The county judge must certify and affirm to DSHS that the following standards have been investigated and confirmed to be met:
The county had five or fewer COVID-19 laboratory confirmed cases on April 30,or at a later date, five or fewer active coronavirus cases as verified by the Department of State Health Services.The county has created a list of testing opportunities in the county or the area.The county has been in contact with its designated regional advisory council to ensure the community is prepared for any needed health care transfers.The county has provided public notice to the residents of the county, including: Signs and symptoms of COVID-19: Recommended health and safety protocols in line with CDC guidance; Information regarding how residents can get tested in the area; A link to the DSHS website where residents can go to learn about community spread in nearby communities, in order to help county residents understand their risk to exposure if they travel regularly outside of the county.The county has contacted each of the following types of facilities located in the county to ensure they are complying with Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding COVID-19: Nursing homes; Assisted living facilities; Industrial, agricultural, or business facilities with a significant number of employees; and City or county jails.The county is equipped and prepared to protect vulnerable populations, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities.The county has documented procedures to be activated if a resident becomes COVID-19 positive, including procedures to take appropriate measures as necessary in line with the plan to open Texas.The county has contacted DSHS in order to create a plan to ensure contact tracing will occur within 48 hours of a positive test reported to DSHS.
The Governor's Report to Open Texas also outlines a long-term comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. Eight recommendations have been developed by HHSC to help mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 and decrease the risk of infection in these facilities. A summary of the recommendations is below, and full recommendations are in the Governor's report beginning on page 9:
Quantify the extent of infection immediately.Establish a comprehensive mitigation plan.Re-evaluate current COVID-19 positive facilities.Appropriate isolation and placement of COVID-19 patients,Implement enhanced access controls,Enhance control of staff access.Effective notifications.Continue containment efforts.
During the press conference, the Governor 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. Phase I of the tracing program has been completed, and Phase II begins today. Phase III begins May 11. More details about the contact tracing program are available in the Governor's Report to Open Texas beginning on page 16.
As part of his order, Abbott on Monday also relaxed certain restrictions related to health care professionals and issued amended requirements related to hospital capacity. Under the Executive Order (GA-19):
All licensed health care professionals shall be limited in their practice by, and must comply with, any emergency rules promulgated by their respective licensing agencies dictating minimum standards for safe practice during the COVID-19 disaster.Every hospital licensed under Chapter 241 of the Texas Health & Safety Code shall reserve at least 15% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, as determined by HHSC.
Additionally, the Governor issued an 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.
The governor has led a growing chorus of officials seeking to reignite the Texas economy — the world's 10th largest — that has been stalled amid physical distancing efforts in an effort to blunt the spread of the illness. Rallies have been staged in recent days by conservative groups demanding the economy reopen, including one that took place on the Capitol grounds last weekend.
During his news conference, Abbott said slow reopening of the economy would be done with constant consultation from health officials along the way. The governor's previously issued "stay at home" order will be allowed to expire April 30 as scheduled to usher in the first phase of the reopening process, he said.
Today's press conference is at 2:30 PM CT for an update on Texas' response to #COVID19. Tune in to watch live: https://t.co/wVeWemEWp3 pic.twitter.com/EYvVVO8aIa
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 27, 2020
Already, Abbott has taken small steps toward a full-fledged reopening of the economy, including allowing retailers to offer merchandise on a to-go basis starting this past Friday. Earlier, the governor ordered state parks and historic sites to reopen.
The stalling of the state economy has led to 280,406 unemployment claims for the week ending April 18, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The number represents a 2,000 percent increase over any week during 2019, as the Texas Tribune noted.
View the governor's new Executive Orders here:
GA-18: Relating to the expanded reopening of services as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.GA-19: Relating to hospital capacity during the COVID-19 disaster.GA-20: Relating to expanding travel without restrictions as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
Last week, the governor telegraphed his plans to open up the economy even further, telling Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty, "We're gonna be making an announcement opening so many different types of businesses, where you're gonna be able to go to a hair salon, you're gonna be able to go to any type of retail establishment you want to go to, different things like that, with a structure in place that will ensure that we slow the spread of the coronavirus."
The governor's plans to reignite the economy come as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported Monday the number of illness cases grew by 666 in 24 hours, bringing the number of diagnoses to 25,297. The death count rose to 663 on Monday — 15 more deaths since Sunday.
On Sunday, according to the agency, the number of respiratory illness cases had grown by 858 from the previous day, bringing the count then to 24,631 and 648 deaths statewide.