AUSTIN, Texas – Texas will reopen “massive” amounts of businesses soon, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday, teasing an imminent return of hair salons and restaurant dining at a time when President Donald Trump is aiming for a swift nationwide reopening from coronavirus closures.
During a blitz of of radio and television interviews, Abbott assured that life in Texas would begin looking more normal in early May but with safety standards in place to limit the spread of the ongoing outbreak. He also signaled that large urban centers such as Dallas, where the coronavirus outbreak is more severe, would begin reopening under different rules than rural areas that have fewer cases.
More details would come Friday or Monday, Abbott said, and relaxed restrictions would take effect a week after that.
“We're all wanting to get all these businesses back up and running as quickly as possible, and that's exactly what's going to happen in a couple of days when I start announcing all the massive amount of businesses that are going to be opening up in the great state of Texas,” Abbott told Dallas radio station WBAP.
Abbott's updates came as Texas and other states process a record-high surge in jobless claims and as food banks have seen demand spike. On Wednesday, over 1,000 families drove through a line that zig-zagged 1.6 miles (2.6 km) at the El Pasoans Fighting Hunger food bank.
Americans remain overwhelmingly in favor of stay-at-home orders and other efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A majority of Americans also say it won’t be safe to lift social distancing guidelines anytime soon.
Texas began easing some restrictions this week, starting with reopening state parks and allowing doctors to perform nonessential surgeries. Abortion clinics also began reopening Wednesday after being shuttered by some of Abbott's earliest coronavirus restrictions, which set off weeks of court battles.
HOUSTON REQUIRES FACE COVERINGS
Houston officials say residents in Texas’ most populous county will be required to wear something that covers their face while out in public for 30 days starting Monday.
The requirement in Harris County, which has nearly 5 million residents, set off backlash from Houston's police union and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who called the measure “the ultimate government overeach.”
Harris County follows other counties in Texas, including Bexar, Dallas, Travis and Webb counties, who had previously announced similar mask rules. The rule applies to those 10 and older and those in violation could face a fine of up to $1,000.
Officials are asking residents not to use medical masks, including N95 masks, and leave those for health professionals.
COURT: PRISON NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE MASKS, SANITIZER
A federal appeals court has put on hold a ruling that Texas must provide inmates at one prison with hand sanitizer, masks and unrestricted access to soap amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed in a Wednesday ruling to expedite arguments in the state’s appeal of an order that Texas must take additional measures to protect the health of inmates at a prison that houses mostly older and infirm men.
The class-action suit was brought by two men who contend conditions at the Pack Unit, near Navasota, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of Houston, violate their constitutional rights.
After weeks of litigation and the death of one Pack Unit prisoner who had COVID-19, District Judge Keith Ellison ordered Texas to take a number of additional steps to protect inmates there from the virus. He wrote the failure to do so showed “deliberate indifference.”
As of Tuesday, more than 200 staff members and nearly 470 inmates at over two dozen Texas prisons have tested positive for COVID-19.
Associated Press writers Juan Lozano in Houston, Jake Bleiberg in Dallas and Cedar Attansio in El Paso contributed to this report.