Abbott keeps schools closed, reopens state parks, allows retail-to-go, loosens some medical restrictions

AUSTIN, Texas – More than a month after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Texas, the governor on Friday unveiled the first phase of his plan that he said is aimed at reopening the state’s economy while monitoring coronavirus trends.

Gov. Greg Abbott started by thanking Texans for their sacrifices during the stay-home order that has been in effect. He said that while those efforts have helped control the spread of COVID-19, the crisis is not over.

“Texas needs you to continue those efforts,” Abbott said.

The governor issued a series of executive orders that modify and, in some cases, loosen restrictions that were put in place at the beginning of the outbreak.

Here’s a closer look at Abbott’s plan that he said will gradually reopen Texas while keeping a watchful eye on the spread of coronavirus.

“Step by step, we will open Texas,” Abbott said.

Schools to remain closed

Abbott said that medical experts have concluded that schools cannot safely reopen at this time.

“It would be unsafe to allow students to gather at schools for the foreseeable future,” Abbott said.

Therefore, he has ordered all schools, including higher-education institutions, to stay closed for the remainder of the school year.

The governor said that teachers will be allowed into their classrooms when it is necessary.

Retail-to-go starts next Friday

Starting next Friday, retail businesses will be allowed to offer curbside pickup or delivery to their customers, Abbott said.

Abbott said that employers should maintain strict social distancing and face mask standards for employees who are required to be in a store.

State parks reopen Monday

Abbott said that state parks will reopen Monday to help protect the physical and mental health of Texans. However, he said visitors must maintain social distancing standards and wear face masks. He said visitors will also be prohibited from gathering in groups of larger than five.

Relaxing restrictions on some medical procedures

The governor said that restrictions that have been in place for certain types of medical procedures and diagnostic tests in order to ensure there were enough hospital beds in the event of a coronavirus surge will be loosened starting April 22.

Creating a strike force

Abbott said he is creating a strike force with the mission of determining the best strategies for reopening Texas. Members of that task force include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, State House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and State Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Abbott said the team will be advised by health officials and business leaders throughout the state, including several people from the Houston area.

More announcements are coming

Another round of reopenings will be announced April 27 and sometime in May, Abbot said, but the extent of those announcements will be determined by the overall trend of new infections and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. He said there must be a downward trend in both metrics before more businesses will be allowed to reopen.

“We must be guided by data and doctors,” Abbott said.

He said it’s possible that the next reopening phase will look much like the guidance that was given to residents before the stay-home order was issued, which encouraged people to adhere to social distancing guidelines and avoid gathering in groups of larger than 10.

Testing, flexibility is part of the plan

Abbott said that while he sees “glimmers” that Texas may be nearing the end of the crisis, he said that state leaders must be able to quickly respond to any pockets of coronavirus outbreak that may occur.

He said that if clusters of COVID-19 begin to appear, officials will likely issue strict guidelines specifically for the affected communities instead of the entire state.

To that end, Abbott said testing people for the virus will continue to increase. He said testing will include both the nasal swabs that take some time to process and the rapid coronavirus tests that have been recently launched at testing sites in Harris County.