Gov. Greg Abbott extends social distancing guidelines, school closures amid coronavirus pandemic

Updates from Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday, March 29

HOUSTON – Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday sought to get Texans to stay at home for the next month to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, issuing an order that says they must "minimize" social gatherings and in-person contact with people outside their homes unless they are taking part in "essential" services and activities. He also announced that schools would remain closed until at least May 4.

The decision brings Texas more in line with states that have implemented shelter-in-place — or stay-at-home — orders to fight the spread, but Abbott declined to characterize his latest order that way, arguing those terms leave the wrong impression. He wants Texans to know they can still leave their homes to do things such as go to the grocery store or go for a jog.

"A stay-at-home strategy would mean that you have to stay at home — you cannot leave a home under any circumstances. That obviously is not what we have articulated here," Abbott said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin. "This is a standard based upon essential services and essential activities."

The state has outlined a list of more than a dozen essential services that comply with Abbott’s order, which is largely aligned with federal guidance on the issue but adds religious services.

The language of the order and Abbott's reluctance to call it a stay-at-home order caused some confusion about its scope and what specifically it restricts. But Abbott spokesman John Wittman said after the governor's news conference that the "only thing that is allowed are essential services and personal activities that correspond with those services."

"That is in addition to the personal and religious activities that the executive order explicitly allows," Wittman said.

Later, state Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said, "Gov. Abbott has essentially created a statewide stay-at-home order.

“His press conference today was confusing at times, but we believe it amounts to a step in the right direction,” Turner said.