With the statement that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott today issued a series of executive orders allowing for a phased in reopening of the state, with the exception of all public, private and higher education schools, which will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
The reopening process will be guided by a statewide strike force chaired by Austin banker James Huffines. Others involved include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar and numerous medical experts and business owners.
“We’ve shown we can both continue our efforts to contain the coronavirus while also adopting safe standards that will allow us to begin the process of reopening business in Texas,” said Abbott at a noontime news conference.
The first step in Abbott’s plan is reopening all state parks, effective Monday.
Restrictions on non-emergency surgeries will be eased on Wednesday to allow doctors and hospitals to resume cancer treatments and other procedures, providing they can guarantee adequate hospital bed capacity and access to personal protective equipment.
In tandem with the loosening of restrictions on hospitals and doctors, Abbott is now requiring infectious disease control policies at nursing homes and minimizing movement of staff between those facilities.
Effective April 24, all retailers in Texas will be allowed to begin operating with curbside or to-go service. Previous restrictions on restaurants and bars remain in effect for the time being.
“Opening Texas must occur in stages,” said Abbott. “Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once or be the first. Some businesses if fully opened without better distancing standards would be more likely to set us back rather than to propel us forward. A more strategic approach is required to make sure that we don’t reopen only to have to shut down once again.”
Additional openings in this phased-in approach will be announced April 27 and later in May, based on signs of a continuing decline in the spread of COVID-19, adequate hospital bed capacity and expanded testing capabilities.
“We have a great challenge ahead of us, but the governor has assembled a team that is up to this task,” Huffines said. “This is not something that can be achieved overnight. It will be a gradual process to reopen Texas while at the same time keeping all Texans safe.”
Abbott was not planning to brief lawmakers until after his public announcement, but Democrats in the Texas House attempted to get out in front of Abbott late yesterday by issuing a reopening wish list of their own. In their view, there should be no reopening until Texas leads the nation in testing for coronavirus instead of being dead last. They also called for increased transparency regarding the spread of the disease in nursing homes, expansion of Medicaid to the 1.5 million Texans who are not covered and improved distribution of p personal protective equipment to local groups and agencies.
Abbott’s plan comes as COVID-19 cases in Texas continue to rise. The latest reported data from the Texas Department of Health Services indicates there have been 17,371 confirmed cases and 428 fatalities.