By Terrance Turner
Texas begins reopening tomorrow.
At an April 27 press conference, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott laid out a plan to reopen businesses in Texas. Abbott said that the COVID-19 infection rate “has been on the decline over the past 17 days”. He further claimed that hospitalization rate has held steady and that hospital capacity has remained abundant. (Both apparently true.)
“At the same time, we must not forget those who have lost their lives due to COVID-19,” Abbott said. “Every life lost is a tragedy. But the fact is, the tragedies in Texas have been far fewer than in most states in the United States. And I’m proud to say that Texas has the third-most recoveries from COVID-19 in America. In fact, the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 will soon exceed the number of active cases.” (For the record, Texas reported 50 new deaths from COVID-19 today — the most in one day since mid-March. The state also reported more than 1,000 new cases. That’s the biggest one-day jump in infections since April 10, according to the Houston Chronicle. Furthermore, KPRC reporter Tulsi Kamath said today that Houston-area cases have now topped 10,000.)
“The lives saved are priceless,” Abbott continued, “but the price has been steep. Many have lost jobs; others have lost businesses. Many are struggling to pay their bills. I want those Texans to know they are not alone in this fight. Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives of the livelihood of our fellow Texans.”
Gov. Abbott said that the Texas Workforce Commission staff has been tripled to more than 2000. Abbott claimed 1.9 million unemployment claims have been filed, and 1.6 million have been processed. $2 billion in benefits have been paid out.
“Now our goal, of course, is to get those Texans back to work, and that is what today is all about. My executive order to stay at home,” Abbott said, “is set to expire on April 30th. That executive order has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19, and I will let it expire as scheduled. Now it’s time to set a new course — a course that responsibly opens business in Texas. We will open in a way that uses safe standards […] standards based upon data and on doctors.”
Abbott cited reports of countries that reopened only to face new outbreaks. “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, while also containing the virus and keeping Texans safe […] opening Texas must occur in phases. Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once. A more strategic approach is required to ensure that we don’t reopen only to have to close down again. So, consistent with CDC guidelines, and based on advice from infectious disease specialists, we will open Texas businesses in phases.” Phase 1 begins tomorrow: Friday, May 1st.
“If we can contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period, we can move to phase two as early as May 18th,” Abbott said. “We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19. That is exactly why, now more than ever, Texans must continue safe distancing practices.”
Gov. Abbott declared that “with my new executive order, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls can reopen May the 1st. Now, to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during phase 1 — on the advice of doctors — I am limiting occupancy to no more than 25%. This is a proven business strategy that’s exactly the type of practice successfully used by HEB and Home Depot. The extent to which this order opens up businesses in Texas supersedes all local orders. If Phase One works while containing COVID-19 days to expand that occupancy to 50%. Further increases will be allowed in the future so long as COVID-19 remains contained.”
Abbott later said: “Now there are some businesses that I want to open, that Texans want open, that the doctors advised were simply not safe enough to open at this particular time. They include barber shops and hair salons, bars and gyms. We are working with our medical team as well as working with the members of the industry sectors to open these businesses as soon as possible. My hope is that they will open on, or no later than, mid-May.”
But some of the businesses Abbott mentioned may not open tomorrow. Cinemark, Alamo Drafthouse, and non-Texas-based chains AMC and Regal ALL told Texas Monthly that they will not yet be opening. This is hardly surprising, as studios have not released a new film to theatres since March
Abbott emphasized that the order is voluntary. “Something important to remember: this order allows businesses to reopen. It does not require them to do so. If a business owner feels unsafe opening at this time, or for other reasons doesn’t want to reopen, there’s no requirement to do so. (However, a Texas Workforce Commission spokesman says that those who do not return to work risk losing unemployment benefits. AND a new report from KPRC says that the TWC is encouraging employers to report employees who don’t return to their jobs.)
Mercifully, Abbott today announced new guidelines for the TWC in regards to those who cannot return to work.
Governor Greg Abbott: (42:34)
“Additionally, all museums and libraries can open under the same 25% capacity. However, interactive areas of museums with hands-on exhibits must remain closed at this time. Again, this is permission to open, not a requirement. Some libraries and museums are operated privately, or by local governments or universities. It is up to them to decide if they are able to open. The state will work to open its libraries and museums by May 1, or soon thereafter.”
Now, a lot of business in Texas is done by sole proprietors. They can safely return to work now. The guidance in this book, and online, provides safe standards for sole practitioners.”
Places of worship were kept open under Abbott’s existing executive order, but effective by the 1st, they will be able to expand their capacity even more. “We do, however, emphasize the importance of safe distancing practices to ensure that church members remain protected from COVID-19.” (No word on whether those who have lost relatives to COVID-19 will be allowed to hold funerals or pay respects to their loved ones.)
“Outdoor sports are also allowed at this time. So long, however, as it involves no more than four participants playing together at any one particular time, and so long as certain distancing practices are followed. Examples of this would be things like golf, and tennis,” Abbott explained. If COVID-19 can be contained in phase one, sporting events can expand the number of participants in Phase Two.
Governor Greg Abbott: (44:36)
“Doctors, nurses, and dentists: they need to get back to work. Even more importantly, patients need to get in to see those doctors, nurses, and dentists…. so all licensed healthcare professionals are allowed to return to work with few restrictions. However, all licensed hospitals still must reserve 15% of capacity for COVID-19 patients.” (Those hospital beds will be needed. According to Business Insider, On April 28, the state reported 42 deaths, up from 26 the week prior and 11 at the beginning of the month.)
Abbott touted a “robust testing and tracing program” that would also have three phases. “When you aggregate all of the tests run by the state and local governments with the rapidly increasing number of tests run by the private sector, we should easily exceed our goal of 25,000 tests per day,” he said. (The Texas Tribune reports: “The state has been adding an average about 14,000 tests per day over the past week, according to figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Still, the total number of tests done as of Monday — 290,517 — remained about 1% of Texas’ nearly 29 million people.”)
Texas Monthly added in an article published today that Texas ranks 46th in the nation in testing per capita.
I’m dedicating this piece to my godbrother, who died of complications from COVID-19 today.