AUSTIN, Texas -- As the novel coronavirus continues to spread in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered an end to non-essential business and activities statewide through April 30 as the latest effort to combat the pandemic, which as of Tuesday claimed 41 lives in the Lone Star state.
The new executive order, which goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, also says that all schools in the state will remain closed until at least May 4.
"The governor's order is based on very sound public heath principles," said Dr. John Hellerstedt, the state's health director.
Police officers in the state were directed to enforce these new orders, Abbott said, with violation punishable by a fine or up to 180 days jail time. In addition, Hellerstedt has the authority to order mandatory quarantines, if needed, the governor added.
Leaders of Texas hospitals — who hours earlier had urged the governor in a letter that the time had come to “send a clear message” — said they were left with the impression that Abbott had issued a stay-at-home order. Abbott, however, argued such labels leave the wrong impression and that he wants Texans to know, for example, they can still go to the grocery store.
Abbott’s order states that “every person in Texas shall, except where necessary to provide or obtain essential services, minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.” Essential services includes grocery stores and health care providers, among a long list of other things.
That list of more than a dozen sectors that provide essential services that comply with Abbott's order can be seen below. It is largely aligned with federal guidance on the issue.
"This executive order does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling," Abbott explained.
“This is not a stay-at-home strategy," he continued at an afternoon news conference, "this is a standard based upon essential services and essential activities."
But in an interview afterward, he acknowledged "it's a fact" that the directive brings Texas up to speed with states that have issued orders with those labels - and the Texas Medical Association nonetheless applauded what it called Abbott's “stay-at-home executive order.”
Texas Hospital Association spokeswoman Carrie Williams said: “Stay home unless it’s essential to go out. That message now has been sent to all corners of Texas, and we are in total support of having this statewide protocol.”
All of Texas’ largest counties, including El Paso County, have already imposed their own stay-at-home orders that closed many businesses and banned public gatherings.
Texas reported 389 more cases of coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the total number of known cases to 3,266. Nearly half of the state’s 254 counties have reported at least one case.
The state also reported three additional deaths - in Dallas, Comal and Ellis counties - to bring the statewide total to 41.
At least 42,992 virus tests have been conducted in Texas so far.
(The Associated Press and the Texas Tribune contributed to this report.)