Happy (slowly) re-opening the economy day, Texas

It’s starting to happen slowly but surely – Texas is re-opening for business. Governor Abbott issued a series of executive orders Friday meant to provide guidance in cautiously re-opening businesses in the state. Life isn’t getting back to the pre-coronavirus days but it’s a start.

Governor Abbott announced the establishment of a strike force to find ways to safely and effectively bring the state back to life. This strike force is comprised of business people, elected officials, and medical professionals. It is broken into four key workgroups including economic revitalization, health care, education, and fiscal accountability and federal liaison. The medical team will further develop the state’s plan for testing and tracking COVID-19 cases. “By coming together, we can get Texans back to work, practice safe standards that will prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we can overcome this pandemic,” Abbott said.

These actions by the governor are being taken because there is cautious optimism that Texas is not experiencing the devastation that other areas are experiencing from the spread of the coronavirus. Projections are not proving accurate. Governor Abbott said that Texas is in line to dramatically increase testing by the end of April or the first of May. Currently, Texas ranks 49 out of 50 states for testing.

“Because of the efforts by everyone to slow the spread, we’re now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said, noting that the number of infections is “beginning to level off” and the death toll, while tragic, has “not come close to the early, dire predictions.”

“We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus,” Abbott added.

As of Sunday, it was reported that at least 663 more people tested positive for the new coronavirus, an increase of about 4% over the previous day, bringing the total number of known cases to 18,923.

Many major cities are rolling back predictions of the numbers of patients that might overwhelm hospital systems. Concerns that Texas hospitals would be unable to accommodate a surge of COVID-19 patients seem to have lessened in recent days. It looks as though back-up plans will not need to be implemented. Elective surgeries will be allowed again beginning Tuesday.

“It turned out in hindsight that we have a great number of hospital beds that are vacant, that appear that will not be needed to treat COVID-19 patients,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a Friday afternoon press conference when he also announced plans to gradually reopen the state economy. “Because of the hospital bed vacancy and because of a new supply chain for PPE, we feel that we can begin allowing some more procedures.”

A prohibition on medical procedures that are not “immediately medically necessary” will be loosened starting next week, allowing hospitals that have struggled financially without those lucrative procedures to begin recouping losses. Starting Tuesday night, health care facilities may perform a limited number of nonessential surgeries, so long as they preserve at least 25% capacity available to treat COVID-19 patients and don’t deplete medical resources.

State parks will be open beginning today. Governor Abbott closed them two weeks ago. Social distancing rules are still in effect during visits to state parks. Face coverings, keeping a distance of 6 feet between each other, and no group gatherings larger than five people are all rules that still apply. There are two exceptions in the state park openings – Franklin Mountains and Hueco Tanks state parks in El Paso remain closed. The coronavirus appears to be spreading quickly in the El Paso area and officials are keeping an eye on that.

On Friday, retail businesses will be allowed to begin product pick-up. Governor Abbott calls it “retail-to-go” and it means that stores will be allowed to bring orders to cars of customers, like how restaurants are doing curbside pick-up of food orders.

In one week, on Aprile 27, the governor will address additional openings, depending on data and medical reports.

Additional openings will be announced April 27 “after further input from medical staff,” Abbott said. Abbott repeatedly pointed to April 27 as the next date on which he could announce additional steps to reopen the economy, as long as Texas is continuing to make progress in slowing the spread of the virus. Previewing that date, Abbott said, “One of the things that we will consider is the elimination of the stay-at-home policy,” which he announced late last month and expires April 30.

“If the data continues to show a flatlining and then a decline” in positive tests, “that is a signal that we can begin the process of opening up some businesses that adhere to the strictest strategies that will reduce the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.

All of this is good news for Texas, a state economy that is the 10th largest economy in the world. The coronavirus pandemic has led the state into recession territory economically and these moves will bring some optimism to business owners. Perhaps Texas will be able to model a safe, responsible way for other states to use when they are able to re-open with the help of facts on the ground. This gives hope for the light at the end of the tunnel that life will get better, hopefully sooner rather than later, for many of us.