WATCH: Gov. Abbott: Texas classrooms closed for rest of school year; economy to reopen in waves using ‘data and doctors’

State parks to reopen, restrictions on medical procedures eased, retailers can sell ‘to-go’

AUSTIN, Texas – Governor Greg Abbott said Friday that public and private schools and higher education campuses will be closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year, but that other parts of Texas will slowly begin to reopen soon.

“We’re beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said, adding that any strategy to reopen the state must “be guided by data and doctors.”

Abbott announced three executive orders at a briefing at the Capitol on Friday regarding Texas’ economic response to COVID-19. The orders do the following:

  • Schools: Public schools, including colleges and universities, “shall remain temporarily closed to in-person classroom attendance by students and shall not recommence before the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Public education teachers and staff are encouraged to continue to work remotely from home if possible, but may return to schools to conduct remote video instruction, as well as perform administrative duties, under the strict terms required by the Texas Education Agency,” the executive order reads. “Private schools and institutions of higher education should establish similar terms to allow teachers and staff to return to schools to conduct remote video instruction and perform administrative duties when it is not possible to do so remotely from home.”
  • Medical procedures: Starting April 22, an order that placed restrictions on some medical procedures, like elective surgeries or diagnostic tests for ailments that are not life-threatening, will be eased by adding two exceptions. The procedures can occur, starting next Wednesday, if: it “would not deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster,” or if it’s performed “in a licensed health care facility that has certified in writing to the (state) both: (1) that it will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients... and (2) that it will not request any personal protective equipment from any public source, whether federal, state, or local, for the duration of the COVID 19 disaster.”
  • Businesses: Abbott’s order allows retailers that are not deemed essential to reopen on April 24, if their products can be sold via drive-thru, delivery or curbside and if state guidelines can be followed.
  • Task force: Abbott said he has formed a new task force of politicians, business leaders and doctors who will develop a strategic plan to reopen Texas. “The new plans will be based on how well COVID-19 is contained in the state of Texas,” he said, adding there’s a possibility those plans include reopening movie theaters and the dining rooms of restaurants.
  • The task force includes at least three San Antonio connections: Graham Weston, former chairman of San Antonio-based Rackspace Hosting Inc.; Balous Miller, the owner of San Antonio-based Bill Miller Bar-B-Q Restaurants; and J. Bruce Bugg, Jr, the chair of the Texas Transportation Commission. A new set of guidelines will be unveiled on April 27, based on the guidance of the task force. It also includes the top state leaders: Attorney General Ken Paxton, House Speaker Steve Bonnen, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Comptroller Glenn Hegar.
  • State parks: Abbott said he would also open all state parks starting on Monday, but visitors must wear face coverings or masks and follow social distancing guidelines. Gatherings should not exceed five people, he said.

He said restrictions on business will slowly let up in a series of waves, adding that a “statewide strike force" with Texas officials and business leaders will develop the strategic plans. The retail and the medical fields will be the first businesses to see effects from Abbott’s updated executive order. The third wave of eased restrictions is slated to be unveiled in May, he said.

“Even more openings will be announced in May when it is determined that the infection rate continues to decline and when testing capabilities are sufficient to test and contain” outbreaks, he said.

The Texas Tribune, a pool outlet for the press conference, reported the following:

"Abbott’s news conference came as the number of coronavirus cases in Texas climbed to at least 17,371, including 428 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 192 are reporting cases.

“The number of tests done in Texas stands at 169,536, according to the state figures. That continues to amount to a tiny fraction of Texas’ nearly 29 million people, fueling concerns that the extent of the outbreak across the state is not fully known.”

Can Texas handle a COVID-19 spike? Here’s what the data says.

Read the three executive orders in full below. More info about today’s executive orders can be found online.

COVID-19 not expected to peak for several weeks in Texas, Gov. Abbott says

There are 918 COVID-19 cases and 37 deaths in Bexar County, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during his daily briefing on Thursday.

The county and city emergency orders have been updated to require all people over the age of 10 years old to wear cloth face coverings in public areas where social distancing is not possible by April 20.

President Donald Trump on Thursday laid out a three-step, weeks-long map for easing the restrictions in places where the virus is being brought under control.

According to the Associated Press, the new guidelines hold restrictions in line for harder-hit locations.

Trump gives governors options on how to reopen the economy

On Friday, he called for Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia to “liberate” in a Tweet-storm against stay-at-home restrictions due to the pandemic.

Worldwide, the outbreak has infected more than 2.1 million people and killed over 145,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally based on figures supplied by government health authorities around the globe. The death toll in the U.S. topped 33,000, with more than 670,000 confirmed infections.

Abbott was expected to reveal a plan for reopening the economy in Texas amid the pandemic, according to media reports.

Trump gives governors options on how to reopen the economy

On Thursday, President Donald Trump said he has given governors a road map for recovering from the financial toll.

The new guidelines are aimed at easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while holding the line in harder-hit locations, according to the Associated Press.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.


About the Author:

Rebecca Salinas has worked in digital news for more than 10 years and joined KSAT in 2019. She reports on a variety of topics for KSAT 12 News.