Texas enters Phase Two in re-opening, reported cases of COVID-19 rise

Today is the day that Texas is easing into Phase Two of the state’s plan to reopen. While businesses are working to reopen safely and follow the guidelines put into place by Governor Abbott and a group of experts known as the Strike Force to Open Texas, the media focuses on a rise in coronavirus cases being reported.

As of Monday, May 18 the big news is that gyms, nonessential manufacturing, and work offices may reopen but must follow social distancing precautions, and capacity is limited to 25%. Keeping gym equipment clean and the use of personal protection equipment by the public is the top priority.

When it comes to gyms, the governor said all equipment must be cleaned after each use, and people must wear gloves while working out.

Some local gyms are advising employees to wear face masks and are encouraging members to do the same.

Abbott said that people must stay 6 feet apart while inside gyms. Locker rooms and showers must remain closed.

Governor Abbott has taken a slow and deliberate approach to reopen the state. Not only has Texas been dealt a blow by the coronavirus pandemic and the nation’s economic collapse but the oil and gas industry has hit unprecedented lows, too. The Texas economy is a driving force in the strength of the nation’s economy, the second-largest in the United States. Reopening Texas will be good for the national economic recovery.

The reopening has focused on personal services, the food and beverage industry, and a slow return to church services and weddings and funerals.

Hair salons, barbershops, tanning salons, and nail salons were allowed to reopen on May 8.

Retail stores, restaurants, malls, and movie theaters were allowed to reopen as part of the first phase on May 1.

Weddings and funeral services were allowed to resume by following the same rules laid out for church services.

Banquet facilities are required to follow the same requirements as restaurants, including keeping tables 6 feet apart and limiting occupancy to 25%.

Counties throughout the state that had less than five cases of COVID-19 on or after April 30, as verified by the Texas Department of State Health Services, were allowed to increase occupancy to up to 50% for the places listed above if they met certain criteria.

And, some businesses are choosing to remain closed because the restrictions brought about by social distancing rules make reopening financially impractical or detrimental to the customer. Some examples include public pools, museums, and zoos. Operating at a 25% capacity doesn’t allow some businesses to make enough money to justify reopening.

Not yet open in Texas are bowling alleys and video arcades, water parks, massage salons, and tattoo and piercing studios. Governor Abbott is expected to address these businesses during a press conference Monday afternoon. YMCA summer camps and other camps for kids are looking at options in reopening. The governor may address them, too.

As Texas continues to reopen, an increase in testing has also continued. Not surprisingly, the number of coronavirus cases being reported has risen. This doesn’t mean the reopening of the state – still at 25% capacity in most cases – has failed or shown the skeptics to be correct. It simply means that more testing means more positive results are being reported. The increase in numbers is a result of an increase in a testing capacity. New single-day highs were reported last week but hospital systems are still not overwhelmed.

Texas is the most populous state to begin reopening so far so it is logical that other states are keeping an eye on what happens. Texas has not been as severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic as some other states have been.

It could take until next month to know how reopening affects the number of new cases in Texas. It can also take 10 days for hospitalization numbers to catch up with infection figures, and three-to-four weeks for data on deaths to do so, according to Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas at Austin Covid-19 modeling consortium.

She said tracking data show movement to places such as grocery stores has increased in recent weeks, though it is difficult to predict how much people are taking steps such as distancing and wearing face coverings.

“Right now it’s hard to know the extent to which people are going out and taking those kinds of precautions,” Meyers said.

More than 700 new cases of the coronavirus were reported in the Amarillo region on Saturday. This is because results in targeted testing at meatpacking plants came in. This wasn’t a new outbreak due to reopening – the beginning of the outbreak in that area had already been detected and Governor Abbott deployed a surge response team to mitigate the spread in the Amarillo region on May 4. Amarillo is in the Texas Panhandle, an area that has a workforce of Hispanics and immigrants who are employed in the meatpacking plants. The highest rate of infection in Texas is found there.

“As Texas continues ramping up its testing capabilities, there will be an increase in positive cases as the state targets the most high-risk areas: nursing homes, meatpacking plants and jails,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement. “By immediately deploying resources and supplies to these high risk areas, we will identify the positive cases, isolate the individuals and ensure any outbreak is quickly contained.”

In a press release Saturday, the governor’s office indicated plants with widespread outbreaks have temporarily shut down for thorough disinfection.

Meatpacking plants in Texas are scrambling to perform deep cleanings and provide protection for workers, the same as plants in other states.

More doors are opening today in Texas but the precautions against the pandemic remain in place. Those who aren’t ready to reopen or find it not financially feasible will remain closed. People who are in the at-risk category or are currently experiencing symptoms of the virus are asked to remain at home. Texas, like other states, is slowly finding its way during unprecedented circumstances. The state and country are still in crisis but we have to start somewhere and give people hope for the future.