Gov. Abbott: Texas Kicking Off Phase One of Reopening this Week

Texas Governor Greg Abbott -- Hurricane Harvey relief briefing. ( Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
Anthony Smith/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday, after conferring with the public and private leaders and medical experts comprising the Strike Force to Open Texas, announced the expiration of the existing stay-at-home order April 30 and the state’s entry into Phase One of reopening, which kicks off Friday, May 1.

Abbott announced that the state’s stay-at-home order will expire as scheduled April 30, with the Lone Star state quickly moving into the first phase of reopening.

The governor said the state’s coronavirus cases have been on the decline for 17 days, adding that the hospitalization rate has “held steady.” Texas has the third most virus recoveries, Abbott said, adding that recoveries will soon exceed the number of active cases.

He explained that officials have been laying the groundwork to reopen since March and detailed the phased approach to reopening, designed to put measures in place that will help businesses open but contain virus and keep Texans safe.

The first phase emphasizes the importance of vulnerable populations remaining at home, if possible, and doubles down on the efforts to protect seniors in nursing homes.

The more we do to protect vulnerable, “the faster we can safely open business in Texas,” Abbott said.

Several businesses can reopen May 1, including retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls. The ultimate decision, Abbott stressed, was driven by doctors who also provided health guidelines for businesses, employees, and customers.

On the advice of doctors, Abbott is limiting occupancy to “no more than 25 percent” in those facilities to help minimize the spread of the virus.

“This is a proven business strategy,” Abbott said, citing the successful practice used by Home Depot and adding that his order “supersedes” all local orders.

If Phase One works while containing the virus, Phase Two will allow businesses to expand their occupancy to 50 percent. Abbott also said that the restrictions could vary by counties with five or fewer cases, allowing them to increase their capacity to 50 percent if they meet the qualifications. If there is an outbreak, however, it could require a county to revert back to a limited capacity.

Churches and places of worship were kept open under existing executive order, Abbott explained, but he said they will be able to “expand capacity even more” as of May 1. Outdoor sports will also be permitted, but he is limiting the number of participants playing together at one time to four.

The governor said there are other businesses he wants to reopen, but experts advised that it is “simply not safe enough” to allow them to proceed at this particular time. Those include barbershops, bars, gyms, and hair salons. Officials are working with experts to open those businesses “as soon as possible.” He said he hopes they can open on or no later than mid-May.

Abbott also said, if they can contain the spread of the virus during the first phase, the state could move to Phase Two as early as May 18.

“If we can contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period, we can move to Phase Two as early as May 18,” he announced.

The second phase will “open more businesses and allow businesses opened in Phase One to expand the operations. We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19.”

Abbott also said he spoke with White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx about the plan and she approved, calling the Texas plan “great.”

“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 in a statement.

“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,” he continued, emphasizing the need to protect the vulnerable.

“If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State,” he added.

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