Gov. Abbott to allow Shelter-In-Place to expire, businesses reopen at 25% occupancy

Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 3:37 PM CDT
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The statewide stay at home order that Gov. Greg Abbott issued last month will expire as scheduled at midnight on Thursday, but that doesn’t mean all businesses will reopen at once.

Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries, however, may reopen on Friday, Abbott announced Monday, but occupancy must be limited to no more than 25% of capacity and interactive areas of museums must remain closed. Abbott emphasized that there is no requirement for businesses to reopen, but instead they have been granted the ability to reopen if they choose to.

Doctors, nurses, and dentists may return to work with few restrictions, he said.

Churches and places of worship have been allowed to remain open throughout the shelter-in-place but have been strongly encouraged to move to online services. They'll be allowed to increase capacity during this phase, but will still be required to abide by social distancing guidelines.

"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," said Governor Abbott. "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."

Outdoor sports like golf and tennis are also allowed, so long as social distancing rules are followed and no more than four players are involved at a time.

Barbershops, hair salons, bars, and gyms aren’t among the businesses that may reopen Friday, but if the first phase goes well, they could be allowed to reopen in mid-May during the reopening program's second phase.

“Opening Texas must occur in phases,” said Governor Abbott.

The reopening process is detailed

Abbott released Monday.

Phase one begins Friday, he said and the state can move to phase two as early as May 18.

Smaller counties with five or fewer confirmed cases of the virus as of this Thursday may increase the capacity of stores, restaurants, malls, theaters, museums, and libraries to 50%, provided the county’s judge certifies that certain standards have been met.

The most important goal of phase one is protecting Texans who are 65 and older, who account for 75% of the state's deaths.

Phase one emphasizes the importance of vulnerable residents remaining home if possible, he said.

“We will also redouble our efforts to protect senior citizens in nursing homes and other senior facilities,” he said.

Is testing capacity adequate?

"The core of the state's reopening plan includes a commitment to safe distancing, following the guidance of medical professionals in implementing safe strategies, a focus on protecting the most vulnerable, and a reminder that it is entrepreneurs who drive the Texas economy," Abbott said.

Testing is also key to the process. The state has the capacity to perform 15,000 to 20,000 tests a day and the goal is to reach 30,000 tests per day in the near term, the report says.

Testing should be focused on those who most need it; those with symptoms of the virus and those at high risk such as nursing home residents.

“As resources allow, individuals with mild symptoms could also be tested.”

Another important element of the process is contact tracing, through which residents who have come into contact with someone who has the virus can be identified. The state says their goal is to have a contract tracing workforce of 4,000, and an app and statewide call center have already been launched to meet those needs.

The president of the Texas Medical Association called Abbott’s plan “prudent and careful” in a statement Monday afternoon.

“Our hospitals were prepared for a large surge of COVID-19 patients,” Dr. David C. Fleeger said. “Thanks to most Texans abiding by social distancing requirements, we were able to avoid that surge."

Fleeger furthered, “However, we must expand significantly our testing capacity, our ability to monitor new cases of COVID-19, and our ability to trace their contacts to prevent a rapid resurgence of this epidemic in Texas.”

The chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, issued a statement in which he said there are still more questions than answers.

“We all want businesses to safely reopen as soon as possible and that’s why I’m disappointed we did not hear more details on how Texas’ COVID-19 testing would increase,” Turner said.

“We’re near last in the nation on per capita testing and Gov. Abbott didn’t present a clear plan how that’s going to change, even though experts agree that widespread testing is essential to any reopening plan.

Texas has the third most recoveries from COVID-19 in the U.S. and the number of recovered patients will soon exceed the number of active cases, Abbott said.

The state reported Monday that 25,297 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Texas. A total of 663 patients have died and an estimated 11,170 have recovered.

The guidelines include some limits

Under the guidelines detailed in the report released Monday, malls and retailers must operate at 25% of maximum occupancy, and food courts and play areas in malls must remain closed.

Restaurants must maintain social distancing, seat no more than six at a single table, and must comply with a list of safety and hygiene protocols.

Movie theaters must keep at least two empty seats between parties in any row and leave every other row empty. Seats and other frequently touched areas must be sanitized between showings.

Churches should continue to encourage at-risk members to watch or participate in services remotely, must designate an area inside their buildings for at-risk visitors, and keep at least two empty seats between worshippers, although members of the same household may set adjacent to one another as in theaters.

Abbott’s announcement should come as a relief to the tens of thousands of beleaguered workers left idle by the closings and frustrated by the difficulty in filing jobless claims.

The size of the staff of the Texas Workforce Center has been tripled to deal with a record-breaking number of claims, Abbott said Monday, and as a result, 1.6 million of the more than 1.9 million claims filed so far have been processed and more than $2 billion has been paid out.

Texas voters favor stay at home orders

Texas voters overwhelmingly approve of the widespread business closures and statewide stay-at-home order even though the economy is taking a catastrophic hit, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The poll found that 77% of Texans favor stay-at-home restrictions.

Fully 90% of Democrats support the restrictions, compared to 69% of Republicans and 65% of independents.

Schools remain closed; other restrictions eased earlier

The announcement Monday came 10 days after Abbott announced on April 17 that Texas schools will remain closed through the end of the current school year.

The order, which applies to public and private schools and institutions of higher learning, does allow teachers to go to classrooms to provide video instruction, perform administrative duties, or to clean out their rooms.

Abbott's order allowed state parks to open on April 24 and cleared the way for all retail stores in the state to begin “retail-to-go” operations starting on April 24, allowing businesses to deliver items to customers’ cars “or other locations to minimize contact.”

State park visitors must wear face coverings and maintain at least six feet of separation from others. Groups of more than five visitors aren’t allowed.

Restrictions on elective surgery were also eased, providing exceptions for procedures that wouldn’t “deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19;” any procedure in a licensed facility that has certified it will reserve at least 25% of its capacity for COVID-19 patients and that it won’t request PPE from any public source for the duration of the pandemic.

Abbott issued executive orders Monday regarding the expansion of services and hospital capacity and a third rescinding mandatory self-quarantine requirements from travelers entering the state from Louisiana.

Self-quarantine requirements remain in effect for anyone who flies into Texas from California, Connecticut, New York New Jersey, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, or Miami.

Members of the Strike Force to Open Texas

John Zerwas, MD, Executive Vice-Chancellor for Health Affairs at the University of Texas System

Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner and U.S. Medicaid and Medicare Administrator

Parker Hudson, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Dell Medical School and program director for the Internal Medicine Residency

Arcilia Acosta: President and CEO, CARCON Industries & Construction

Paul Andrews, Jr.: Founder and CEO, TTI Inc.

Mark Bivins: Rancher, partner in Corsino Cattle Company

Kathy Britton: CEO and Owner, Perry Homes

Brad Brookshire: Chairman and CEO, Brookshire Grocery Co.

J. Bruce Bugg, Jr.: Chairman, Texas Transportation Commission

Alonzo Cantu: President & CEO of Cantu Construction

Bobby Cox: Owner and operator, Bobby Cox Companies, Inc.

Adriana Cruz: Executive Director, Economic Development & Tourism Division, Office of the Governor

Michael Dell: Chairman and CEO, Dell Technologies

Scott Dueser: Chairman, President & CEO, First Financial Bank

Don Evans: Chairman of the President George W. Bush Foundation, Chairman of Permian Strategic Partnership

Tilman Fertitta: Chairman, CEO, and sole owner, Landry's, Inc.

Richard Fisher: Senior Advisor, Barclays and Former President & CEO, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Rick Francis: Chairman of the Board, WestStar Bank Holding Company, Inc.

Printice Gary: Founding Partner/Principal and CEO, Carleton Companies

Brad Heffington: Owner of Heffington Farms, Inc. and Triple T Irrigation, Inc.

Jeffery D. Hildebrand: Executive Chairman and Founder, Hilcorp Energy Company

Nancy Kinder: President & CEO, Kinder Foundation

Tom Luce: Founder and Chairman, Texas 2036

Marc McDougal: CEO, McDougal Companies

Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale: Owner, Gallery Furniture

Drayton McLane: Chairman, McLane Group

Elaine Mendoza: Founder, President & CEO of Conceptual MindWorks, Inc

Balous Miller: Owner, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Restaurants

Carla Moran: Ramar Communications

Dennis Nixon: CEO and Chairman of International Bank of Commerce

David Oliveira: Partner at Roerig, Oliveira & Fisher, L.L.P.

Ross Perot, Jr.: Chairman, The Perot Group

Kevin D. Roberts, Ph.D.: Executive Director, Texas Public Policy Foundation

Robert B. Rowling: Owner and Chairman, TRT Holdings, Inc.

Kendra Scott: Founder and CEO, Kendra Scott

Robert F. Smith: Founder, Chairman & CEO, Vista Equity Partners

Sam L. Susser: Chairman of BancAffiliated, Inc.

Massey Villarreal: CEO and President, Precision Task Group, Inc.

Kirk Watson: Founding Dean of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs

Marc Watts: President, The Friedkin Group

Graham Weston: Former Chairman of Rackspace Hosting Inc.

Sanjiv Yajnik: President of the Financial Services Division, Capital One