Monday afternoon as promised, Governor Greg Abbott announced the end of the stay at home order when it expires on April 30. He presented a plan recommended by the Strike Force to Open Texas charged with coming up with a science-based, data-driven way forward for the re-opening of the state. Abbott said that Dr. Birx agrees the Texas plan is a good one.
First, an announcement by the city of Galveston started Monday off on a good note for beachgoers. Its beaches are now open but with very limited hours and strict rules for behavior while enjoying a visit to a beach. In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, the catch is that we have to take the good with the bad when it comes to reopening up the state. The beaches are only open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. daily. The key rule to follow is that visitors must keep moving – no chairs, tents, or beach picnics are not allowed and vehicles are not allowed on the beach. Surfing, swimming, and fishing are allowed but social distancing is still in effect for those activities. Beaches in the unincorporated areas of Galveston County have been open since April 14.
LIVE: Galveston Island beaches reopen amid coronavirus. Views from AIR11 https://t.co/81dYzhoVDz
— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) April 27, 2020
Governor Abbott said the purpose of slowly re-opening Texas is to allow as many businesses to open while still containing the virus. Businesses will not be allowed to open up all at once. The governor cited concerns over the second wave of outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic like is now happening in China and Singapore, for example. Abbott is going by the advice from infectious disease specialists.
The report can be read HERE.
Phase One begins Friday, May 1. Most importantly, those vulnerable to the coronavirus due to age or compromised immune systems are asked to remain sheltered at home. And, businesses must show special consideration for the vulnerable population like with special hours set aside for shopping before the store opens to the general public. While 20% of people being tested test positive, 70% of deaths from the coronavirus are age 65 or older.
We have shown that Texas can continue our efforts to contain COVID-19 while also adhering to safe
standards that will allow us to begin the process of opening this great state.
The Strike Force to Open Texas brings together nationally recognized medical experts with public- and
private-sector business leaders to help achieve this mission.
That is why we are first and foremost focusing on protecting the most vulnerable among us, on nursing
home mitigation measures, on ramping up testing, and on scaling up contact tracing of the unseen
The list that everyone was waiting to hear about was announced – all retail stores, movie theatres, restaurants, and malls are now allowed to open. No business is required to re-open right now but if a business owner chooses to do so, it’s allowable. Here’s the catch with this, though. Phase One, while allowing restaurants and movie theatres to re-open, limits capacity to 25%. In retail stores that can be accomplished by restricting the number of customers in the store at one time, as happens now, but for restaurants and theatres it poses a different problem. Smaller restaurants, for example, may decide it isn’t profitable enough to reopen for such a limited number of customers while larger restaurants and chains will likely be able to handle the requirement and open. Abbott’s new executive order cuts both ways.
Museums can reopen but none of the hands-on style exhibits in public museums will be available. Private museums will make their own decisions. Libraries can open but with 25% occupancy, too.
Golf courses and tennis courts are allowed to open. Churches can expand capacity as long as they are mindful to continue containment and distancing measures. Homeware stores and hardware stores are still considered essential businesses. All licensed health care workers are allowed to return to work.
The list of businesses not allowed to reopen yet include bars, barbershops, salons, spas, and gyms. As you can imagine, people who patronize hair stylists who operate small businesses or only see one customer at a time, by appointment, are not pleased with this development.
Summer camps were included in the conversation. The task force is still working on its recommendations for ways that summer camps can open for kids this summer. There is a list of over 6,000 child care providers in 1,000 zip codes for workers and working families to use when needed.
If all goes as planned and containment measures continue to be successful in Texas, Phase Two will go into place on May 18. This allows 50% capacity in eating establishments and other businesses. During this time, the businesses not opening now – bars, barbershops, salons, and gyms, for example – will be reopened.
It is important to remember that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t work for all of Texas. Governor Abbott noted that not all counties are alike. Half of the counties in Texas are counties with low populations. Most have 5 or fewer cases of the coronavirus. These counties will be allowed to go to 50% capacity, not start out with 25% as other counties are required to do.
The testing and tracing programs for Phase One are complete, Abbott said. Phase Two began Monday and Phase Three will begin May 18. Abbott said that Dr. Birx has read a copy of the Texas plan and says it is “great”. He stresses that Texas cannot take one step forward and two steps back. Four parts to the puzzle of reopening Texas will continue to determine how quickly it all moves. A commitment to safe distancing, doctors providing data, a focus on the vulnerable, and a reminder that entrepreneurs drive the Texas economy. “We are Texans. We’ve got this.”
The Texas health care system has not been overwhelmed. The new executive order signed by Governor Abbott Monday to put Phase One into place presents a conflict with some areas of the state. On the very day that the mandatory mask rule went into place in Harris County, Governor Abbott essentially canceled it. His orders supersede those of local orders as far as business closings go, too.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced he is overriding Houston and Harris County and allowing the re-opening of all restaurants, retail stores, malls and movie theaters starting May 1, but they must keep occupancy at 25 percent or less.
“The ultimate decision about the types of businesses and the extent to which they can open was driven by the doctors advising us about safe medical practices,” Abbott said.
Abbott made clear that his decision “supersedes all local orders.”
Abbott also announced that he is recommending everyone wears masks in public but will not mandate masks, as Harris County did effective Monday. He said his new order bars local governments from fining people for not wearing a mask. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had a $1,000 fine in place.
It should also be noted that the temporary emergency site at NRG stadium was never used because Houston’s hospitals were not overwhelmed. Beds are available. The site in the parking lot at NRG ended up costing taxpayers at least $11M, though at the time Judge Hidalgo and the Harris County Commissioners Court authorized $60M for construction of emergency facilities. Fortunately, that level of preparedness was never needed.
Today Harris County Commissioners Court authorized up to $60 mil to proactively build out hospital capacity @nrgpark to build as much capacity as possible for #COVID patients in a worst-case scenario. Construction began last week. https://t.co/hynQRa8QeS
— Harris County Judge (@HarrisCoJudge) April 7, 2020
It’s a start. The reopening of Texas can serve as a model for other states. The new order isn’t one that opens up the state all at once, but with measured actions. It’s a Goldilocks solution – not too much, not too little, it’s just right.