Abbott Eases Some Restrictions In Fight Against The Coronavirus
Gov. Greg Abbott Friday announced executive orders that will ease some of the most severe restrictions imposed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
However, all Texas classrooms, public and private, will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
Abbott said that all stores in Texas will be able to operate retail to go beginning next Friday, one week from today.
Abbott said state parks will be reopened beginning this coming Monday. Visitors must wear face coverings or masks and maintain a distance of six feet from non-family members and not gather in groups of more than five.
He said that effective April 22, the ban on non-essential surgery will be loosened to allow doctors to diagnose and treat more conditions, like diagnostic testing for cancer, without having to get an exemption.
Abbott said he was imposing infection control procedures to better protect residents of nursing homes and senior living centers and to limit movement of staff between facilities.
Abbott also named a strike force to reopen the Texas economy made up of state leaders - including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt, and University of Texas System Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs John Zerwas - as well as business leaders and medical experts. It is being chaired by banker James Huffines.
“They will work together to develop a medical architecture to comprehensively test and trace COVID-19 that will enable Texas to gradually, and safely begin the process of returning to work and returning to other activities,” Abbott said.
“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,” Abbott said. “And, step by step, we will open, Texas.”
Abbott thanked Texans for their cooperation through a very difficult period.
Because of efforts by everyone to slow the spread we’re beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said. “Deaths, while far too high, will not come close to the early dire predictions.” Abbott’s briefing follows by a day President Donald Trump ceding authority for reopening state economies to governors.
“You’re going to call your own shots,” Trump told governors on a conference call Thursday, according to an audio recording obtained by the Associated Press. “We’re going to be standing alongside you.”
But the president did release new guidelines for easing restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, and a very gradual return to normalcy.
At his last news briefing on Monday, Abbott said that, “later this week I will outline both safe and healthy strategies where we can go about reopening businesses in Texas and revitalizing our economy.”
He also said that he would let Texans know whether classrooms would be opening again this spring. Abbott made it clear that reopening the economy would be a slow, deliberate process. “This isn’t going to be a rushing the gates, everyone is able to suddenly reopen all at once,” he said.
Abbott said the process will be guided by a team that will put together a comprehensive strategy, with input from medical professionals, for “what must be done for Texas to open back up.”
But, he said, “Our primary goal in the state of Texas right now is to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, contain it, make sure the state is a safe place for all Texans.”
Speaking on Fox Monday night with Sean Hannity, Abbott said, “Texans love to work and we want them to get back to work but we have to do so in a very safe way so we don’t regenerate the coronavirus in the state of Texas.”
“But we’re working on strategies as we speak, with medical experts, with business leaders, to find the right strategy so that we can unleash our economy,” Abbott said. “Remember this Sean, Texas was the No. 1 state for job creation in the nation last year. We are leading in gross domestic product. America needs Texas to get back to business.”
“There are strategies that have worked because there have been some businesses that have been open at the same time we’ve been reducing the spread of the coronavirus,” Abbott said. “So we need to learn from those strategies that work and let other businesses deploy those strategies while we are ensuring that we continue to slow the spread of the coronavirus.”
On Thursday, about 150 protesters demonstrated in front of the Governor’s Mansion calling for an end to Abbott’s stay at home order, which exempts those performing essential services or involved in essential activities, like grocery shopping or exercising.
On Tuesday, a group of leaders affiliated with the tea party wing of the Texas Republican Party wrote Abbott that, “Texas should enact a clearly communicated and citizen-driven plan to prudently and carefully return Texans to work, to church, and possibly back to school.”
“State Reps. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) and Mike Lang (R-Granbury) sent excellent recommendations, presenting strong suggestions on how to move the economy again and stand Texans back on their feet,” they wrote to the governor. “Those recommendations include removing the distinction between `essential’ and `non-essential’ businesses; allowing restaurants, gyms, salons, and other businesses to reopen provided they take commonsense measures to maintain social distancing; and, continuing to waive regulations already waived for an extended and defined period.”
The signers included Ross Kecseg of Empower Texans, JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America – We the People, Rachel Malone of Gun Owners of America, Jim Graham of Texas Right to Life, and Julie McCarty of the True Texas Project.
But Texas Democrats cautioned that Abbott should be guided by sound medical advice, and by the need for far more testing than the state is now engaged in.
“The governor is the chief executive of our state,” state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “He should be guided by science and make the right decisions no matter how many different places he feels pressure from, and it’s just vitally important that whatever decisions he’s made are in the interests of the public health and are guided by public health experts and not by ideologically driven motivations which seem to be what some of the voices are driven by that we’re hearing.”
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were tapped Thursday to serve on President Donald Trump’s Task Force to Re-Open Economy.
“The consequences of the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic are serious and dire,” Cruz said. “In just the last four weeks, 22 million Americans have lost their jobs. Congress took unprecedented action to provide emergency relief from this economic devastation, but as we have seen, that relief can only go so far.”
“There are reasonable steps we can and must take now — based on the science and public health guidance — to begin safely reopening the economy and helping the American people return to work, from increasing the production of personal protective equipment to making testing more widely available,” Cruz said. “As a part of President Trump’s bipartisan task force, I’ll be working to do just that.”
In a conference call Thursday with Texas reporters, Cornyn said it made sense to leave great discretion to state and local leaders.
“I think that’s entirely appropriate given the fact that this virus has not been uniform in terms of where it has attacked, and different locations have different challenges and issues,” Cornyn said.
“Obviously, Midland, Texas, is not New York City,” Cornyn said. “And it’s pretty obvious to all of us that this virus loves a crowd, but it can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.”