As of April 27th, the infection rates are down over the last two weeks and patient discharges are steady—creating significant capacity. Overall, 290,517 tests have been administered in Texas, with 25,297 individuals testing positive and 663 deaths from COVID-19.
By Craig Chick, Amy Beard and Val Perkin
Governor Abbott announced the initial finding of the Strike Force to Open Texas. The final report can be found here. Abbott’s current Executive Order GA-16 will expire April 30, 2020. The Governor’s new superseding Executive Order GA-18 sets out a phased approach to opening Texas businesses. For the safety of Texans, and consistent with the advice of medical professionals and CDC guidance, not all businesses can open at once.
Individuals are encouraged to wear appropriate face coverings, but no jurisdiction can impose a civil or criminal penalty for failure to wear a face covering. (This provision appears to supersede local ordinances in Harris and Travis Counties requiring face masks be worn and offenders be fined as much as $1,000.)
Abbott’s order supersedes local orders, which previously directed businesses remain closed. These re-openings are optional. If a business wishes to stay closed, they may do so.
On Friday, May 1st, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls may open, but can only operate at 25% capacity. Museums and libraries will also be allowed to open at 25% capacity, but hands-on interactive exhibits must remain closed. Outdoor sports are allowed so long as there are no more than four participants at a time–e.g., golf and tennis. (Phase two will expand the number of participants.)
Senior citizens age 65 and over represent 75% of deaths. Due to the need to protect the most vulnerable, businesses are encouraged to accommodate senior citizens and institute better protocols at senior living centers, though Abbott encouraged senior citizens to stay at home, if possible.
Abbott issued Executive Order GA-19 allowing all licensed health care professionals to return to work. These health care professionals shall be limited in their practice by, and must comply with, any emergency rules promulgated by their respective licensing agencies dictating minimum standards for safe practice during the COVID- 19 disaster.
Additionally, all hospitals shall reserve at least 15% of its facility capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, as determined by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
Abbott established a separate standard for rural areas, defined by counties with 5 or less cases, that will be able to skip to Phase II levels. (These rural counties represent 50% of the counties in Texas.) Businesses in rural areas may operate at 50% capacity. These businesses will need to meet the required guidelines outlined by the Task Force. Abbott warned these conditions could revert if case numbers do not remain controlled at current levels.
Houses of worship
Governor Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton issued updated joint guidance regarding the effect of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-18 on religious services conducted by congregations and houses of worship. It recommends health protocols for houses of worship to guard the health and safety of their attendees while serving their respective communities of faith.
Executive Order GA-18 defines essential services to include “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.” State and local government orders may not prohibit people from providing or obtaining those religious services.
Abbott outlined Phase Two of opening Texas business operations by stating if case control remains steadfast, businesses may be allowed to reach 50% capacity by May 18th. He indicated the need for two weeks of data on cases to determine the effectiveness of the Task Force’s guidelines.
The report also highlights the Department of State Health Services recommended minimum standard health protocols for all individuals, all employers and employees, as well as industry-specific protocols for retailers, retail customers, restaurants, restaurant patrons, movie theaters, movie theater customers, museums and libraries, museum and library visitors, outdoor sports participants, single-person offices, and low COVID-19 counties. These protocols are outlined within the Strike Force’s report.
Gov. Abbott reiterated his desire to open a number of other businesses such as bars, gyms, hair salons and even summer camps, but stipulated those remaining businesses will have to wait until mid-May for further details. He expressed concern for the safety of children as a chief consideration.
Additionally, the state must have a robust testing and tracing program. Texas seems to have sufficient levels of testing in place. Phase one of the state’s tracing program has been activated by the hiring of 1,100 employees. Phase two begins today, with another 1,000 workers being deployed statewide, and the utilization of a tracing app and call center. Texas will build out the program to retain 4,000 tracers through May, and has set a goal of 25,000 tests a day.
Abbott also stated this portion of Texas’ reopening plan was approved in consultation with Dr. Deborah Birx, the Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Trump Administration’s White House Coronavirus Task Force.
The following chart sets out testing and tracing plans:
Abbott lifted previously imposed travel restrictions placed on travel from Louisiana and New Orleans. Executive Order GA-20 eliminates the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for individuals traveling from Louisiana. Under the new order, the mandated 14-day quarantine for travelers from the following areas remains in place: California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; and Miami, Florida.
View the Governor Abbott’s executive orders issued today:
- GA-18: Relating to the expanded reopening of services as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
- GA-19: Relating to hospital capacity during the COVID-19 disaster.
- GA-20: Relating to expanding travel without restrictions as part of the safe, strategic plan to Open Texas in response to the COVID-19 disaster.
View Governor Abbott’s press release regarding the announcement.
For a guide to all of Gov. Abbott’s Coronavirus executive order, click here.
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