Texas becomes first state to announce dates easing COVID-19 restrictions

Jeff Ehling Image
Friday, April 17, 2020
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WATCH: Gov. Abbott announced big changes Friday, including a plan to allow retailers to reopen safely and the closure of all Texas schools for the remainder of the school year.

AUSTIN, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued three executive orders Friday that outline how to reopen the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement from the governor has been long awaited, with Abbott adding that the state and its decisions must be guided by data and doctors.

He started Friday's briefing with hope, noting that, "We are now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us," and that Texas has the second-most recoveries of all the states.

Still, many business owners and unemployed workers have been eager to hear what will be required to get on with their lives.

According to the governor, more than 1 million Texans have filed for unemployment.

When asked about unemployment benefits and states running out of money, the governor said money is still available.

"Then on top of that, we know that Congress is considering an additional program. They could be coming out as soon as May that will provide even more funding to states as needs arise," the governor said.

"Opening Texas must occur in stages," he continued. "First will be openings announced today that will pose minimal or no threats with COVID-19."

Abbott said the first order will focus on establishing the Strike Force to Open Texas, which will consist of medical experts, including Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, as Chief Medical Officer of the group.

These are some of the industry leaders the governor has assigned to the force:

  • Lt. Gov Dan Patrick - consulting member
  • Kendra Scott - Founder and CEO, Kendra Scott
  • Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale - Owner, Gallery Furniture
  • Ross Perot Jr. - Chairman, The Perot Group
  • Tilman Fertitta - Chairman, CEO, and sole owner, Landry's, Inc.
  • Nancy Kinder - President & CEO, Kinder Foundation
  • James Huffines - Strike Force chair

For more information on the people involved, visit the Strike Force website.

The second executive order focuses on the retail sector and what the governor says will be the safe and strategic reopening of select services and activities in Texas.

Abbott said all retailers in Texas should be allowed to operate with to-go strategies, beginning next Friday, April 24. Under this to-go model, reopened businesses will be required to deliver items to customers' cars, homes or other locations to minimize contact. To look up participating businesses, go to dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus.

Under this order, the governor made a major announcement about schools, saying that all classrooms will remain closed for the rest of the school year. Teachers will be allowed to go into the classroom for video instruction or to clean out classrooms.

This includes public and private schools and universities.

The third executive order focuses on nurses, doctors and staff, as well as hospital capacity and personal protective equipment, or PPE, as they relate to the COVID-19 response.

Effective April 21 at 11:59 p.m. through May 8 at 11:59 p.m., all licensed health care professionals and licensed health care facilities must continue to postpone surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition or save a patient's life.

Exceptions can now include:

  • Any procedure that would not deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19
  • Any surgery or procedure performed in a licensed health care facility that has certified in writing it will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients and that it will not request any PPE from any public source, whether it be federal, state or local for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster.

FULL VIDEO: 'Step by step, we will open, Texas'

When it comes to state parks, Abbott said those will reopen on Monday, April 20. But certain guidelines must be met. Visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Groups larger than five cannot gather.

Still, Abbott addressed concerns that some employees may feel uneasy about returning to work, even as they are phased in.

Abbott said any employees who may be concerned about going back to work should not be coerced, but should feel safe in the workplace. He added employers have a responsibility to make sure safe practices are maintained.

Additional openings will be announced on April 27, and the third phase will be announced in May, based on input from medical advisers.

The governor stressed the phases will require "comprehensive testing and assurances of hospital readiness for COVID-19 patients. They will focus on containing the risk of resurgence of COVID-19 and protecting our most vulnerable Texans." The opening of more venues such as restaurants and movie theaters will also be considered.

"Together, we can bend the curve. Together, we can overcome this pandemic. We can get folks back to work. We can adopt safe strategies that prevent the spread of COVID-19 and step by step, we will open, Texas," Abbott said.

The governor's announcement comes on the heels of a three phase federal plan to get back to work introduced by President Trump on Thursday.

READ MORE: Trump unveils phased approach to reopening economy amid coronavirus outbreak

It starts with limited numbers of employees returning to the office and the rest working from home, while at-risk groups continue to shelter-in-place.

The next phase allows churches, schools, gyms and restaurants to re-open with social distancing still in place.

Then finally, the third phase allows all venues to open back up with limited distancing.

Health officials worry returning too soon could set off a second wave of infections.

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