AUSTIN, Texas -- Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday announced initial steps to begin the process of re-opening the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement of eased restrictions in Texas came a day after President Donald Trump gave governors a road map for recovering from the nation's economic pain.
Abbott issued the following executive orders:
- All public schools, private schools and universities will be closed for the rest of the current school-year.
- On Apr. 22, restrictions on non-essential surgeries will be loosened.
- All stores can operate retail-to-go (i.e. drive-thru or delivery, but customers are NOT allow into stores) starting next Friday, provided they follow the guidelines posted here.
- Most state Parks will re-open Monday but visitors must wear masks, maintain 6-feet distance between people, and not gather in groups larger than 5. (However, El Paso County's Franklin Mountains and Hueco Tanks state parks are exempt and will NOT be re-opening.)
The Texas State Teachers Association applauded Abbott's decision to close schools for the remainder of the school year, which the governor said he made with the advice of health officials to avoid quickening the spread of the virus.
"The team of doctors advising us have determined it would be unsafe to allow students to gather at schools for the foreseeable future," Abbott said.
Abbott also named a "statewide strike force" devoted to developing additional re-opening procedures. Austin banker James Huffines will chair the task force, while veteran lobbyist Mike Toomey will be its chief operating officer.
That group will oversee what Abbott described as a phased re-opening. Additional openings will be announced April 27 "after further input from medical staff," Abbott said.
"Even more openings will be announced in May when it is determined that the infection rate continues to decline and when testing capabilities are sufficient to test and contain" outbreaks of the virus, he said.
Abbott didn't detail what those later openings would entail, but said “step by step, we will open up Texas” during a televised announcement from the state Capitol.
Abbott and other state officials coordinating the virus response have struck an optimistic tone this week, noting the declining rate at which the number of Texas cases is doubling. At least 17,300 people in Texas have tested positive for the virus, and more than 400 have died as of Friday.
The governor has issued what is effectively a stay-at-home order through the end of April in Texas, but officials in some of the state’s largest cities say they don’t expect the number of Covid-19 cases to peak until May.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has begun wearing a mask during his daily news briefings, is still calling for more testing and said this week that talk of reopening the nation’s fourth-largest city was premature.
“It’s pretty clear from our city that they don’t believe it’s the time to open up businesses, because not enough testing has been done to know who’s vulnerable,” said Democrat state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston lawmaker. “They would prefer that we wait until we have a little more information before the business goes back to where it normally.”
Abbott is facing sharpened political attacks from both sides of the aisle. Conservatives are lining up behind President Trump and pressuring Abbott to unleash businesses as Texas, one of the largest economies in the world, is struggling to handle a crush of more than 1 million people who have filed for unemployment since the crisis began.
Democrats, who have a shot at retaking the the Texas House in November for the first time in 20 years, are ratcheting up their criticism of Texas’ testing capacity and a stretched supply of protective equipment for medical workers.