Gov. Greg Abbott declined to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order on Sunday — even as calls for such an action increased as the new coronavirus continued to spread across the state.
Abbott did not order all Texans to shelter in place, noting that there are still many counties in Texas without confirmed cases and that he wants to see the full impact of an executive order he issued Thursday. In the meantime, he welcomed local officials to take more restrictive action than he has statewide.
During an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol in Austin, Abbott also announced the formation of a "strike force" to respond to the coronavirus and that the Texas National Guard, which he activated several days ago, would be deployed this week to help hospitals deal with the outbreak.
In the lead-up to Abbott's news conference, though, attention centered most intensely on whether he would go beyond the executive order that he issued Thursday. That order urged all Texans to limit public gatherings to 10 people, prohibited eating in at restaurants and bars and temporarily closed schools. That order went into effect midnight Friday and goes through midnight April 3.
"We need to see the level of effectiveness of the executive order," Abbott said. "What we may be right for places like the large urban areas may not be right at this particular point of time for the more than 200 counties that have zero cases of COVID-19."
Officials in some of the hardest-hit parts of the state had been calling for Abbott to make the move. A group of North Texas officials, including the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth, sent Abbott a letter Saturday asking him to “consider mandatory shelter-in-place orders” statewide. The officials were joined by several health care executives.
"We must do all that we can now to protect our patients, our healthcare professionals, and our first responders so we can save lives and restore the economic vibrancy of our cities and our great state as quickly as possible,” the letter said.
Abbott said that his decision not to issue a statewide order should not stop local officials from issuing such orders in their jurisdictions.
"Local officials have the authority to implement more strict standards than I as governor have implemented in the state of Texas, "Abbott said. "If they choose to do so I would applaud them for doing so, but at this time it is not the appropriate approach to mandate that same strict standard across every area of the state, especially at a time when we are yet to see the results coming out of my most recent executive order."
Abbott said he was mostly "seeing good, aggressive compliance" with his previous order. But he emphasized he expects "full compliances" and listed penalties for failing to do so: fines up to $1,000, potential jail time of 180 days and mandatory quarantine orders.
Abbott added he would continue to monitor the spread of the virus across the state.
“I will always remain flexible and on a moments notice be ready to take whatever strategies on a statewide level to make sure we are doing all that we can” to fight the spread of COVID-19, he said.
As of noon Sunday, there were at least 355 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Texas and six reported deaths. At least 8,756 people have been tested.