AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order Thursday that shuts down all dine-in operations for restaurants and bars across the state. It also requires that gyms be closed, restricts access to nursing homes, and asks all Texans to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.
Abbott unveiled the order, effective at 11:59 p.m. Friday, at a news conference at the State Capitol.
The order also said schools would remain closed statewide until at least until April 3, during which time the governor warned that the coronavirus outbreak could spread to “tens of thousands” of cases across the state.
Abbott's directives were the latest element in the state's effort to lower the impact of the virus, which is believed to be spread mostly through casual human contact with infected people and can cause death in some at-risk populations.
Abbott later said Thursday night that he was tested for the virus and the results were negative, indicating he did so given the thousands of people he has encountered in recent weeks in his role leading the state.
The governor said his order ensures Texas is following guidance provided by the federal government - and he noted that for the first time since 1901, the state has declared a public health emergency.
“The time to act is now,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the state Department of State Health Services, who joined Abbott at the news conference. “If we delay, we will not only pay a higher price than necessary, we will also rue the day that we – all of Texas – did not choose to act decisively.”
The governor said it is not required for Texans to shelter in place and the order does not restrict domestic travel, though he encouraged people to use drive-thru options at restaurants and other businesses to avoid being in large groups.
Texans are still allowed to go in public, go to the grocery store and to work although Abbott encouraged companies to allow workers to work from home if possible. State government will remain open, he said.
As of Thursday night, there were at least 140 virus cases reported among 27 counties in Texas - which the governor said marked a 300% increase in recent weeks. The state has now recorded five deaths.
“This time next week, there will be thousands of people who will have tested positive. In two weeks, probably tens of thousands,” Abbott said. “This is a very rapidly spreading disease, but one we are prepared to respond to.”