AUSTIN, Texas – Governor Greg Abbott announced his plan Monday to reopen the state economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott said that he will not renew statewide stay-at-home orders that he issued March 31. Instead, Abbott said he’ll let his executive order expire as scheduled on Thursday, April 30.
Then, starting on Friday, May 1, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls in Texas would be allowed to open as long as they maintain only 25% occupancy and follow distancing guidelines.
“If a business owner feels unsafe opening at this time ... there is no requirement to do so,” Abbott said, adding that his executive order will supersede local orders.
Masks are encouraged for all Texans but are not mandated, said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Dentists and other licensed health care professionals can resume services on Friday, Abbott said. Libraries and museums may also be able to open as long as they don’t have interactive, hands-on exhibits, Abbott said, adding that state museums would plan to reopen Friday.
Abbott also said churches could expand occupancy, and that sports like tennis or golf can resume as long as there are not more than four people playing together.
Abbott said that vulnerable populations, including the elderly and people with compromised health, should continue to limit interaction with others during this time.
“Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans’ livelihoods," Abbott said.
As businesses reopen under these new guidelines, Abbott said the state has established a more robust testing and tracing procedure to help “box in” any rise in infections. The state is in the process of adding 1,000 contact tracers to help with this process, he said.
“We’re not just going to open up and hope for the best,” Abbott said. The governor referenced other countries, like China and Singapore, that are seeing a second wave of COVID-19 cases as a warning.
The second phase would begin in mid-May, if the state is able to maintain health care capacity and limit the spread a new “flare-up” of the disease, Abbott said.
All businesses able to open during the first phase would be permitted to expand to 50% occupancy in phase two, he said. Others, like gyms, bars, barbershops and nail salons, would potentially be able to reopen under the second phase, Abbott said.
Rural counties with five or fewer COVID-19 cases do not have to follow the same guidelines, Abbott said.
As of Sunday, the Texas health department said the number of coronavirus deaths in the state has risen by 25, according to an Associated Press report.
The health department said there have been at least 648 deaths, an increase from 623 that was reported Saturday. The state now has more than 24,000 coronavirus cases as well, according to the AP.
In Bexar County, 1,254 positive cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, as of Sunday. No new deaths were announced and the death toll remains at 43.