Gov. Abbott releases phased plan to reopen Texas economy

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Photo Credit: Amna Ijaz | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

During his press conference, Gov. Greg Abbott said he will let the stay-at-home order in Texas expire April 30, allowing stores to open at limited capacity Monday.

Abbott said all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls will be allowed to reopen in the first phase starting May 1. Abbott said these businesses must stay at 25% occupancy, and this order will supersede all local orders. The order will also not allow governments at the local level to impose fines for not wearing masks.

“This order allows these businesses to reopen, it does not require them to do so,” Abbott said. “If a business owner feels unsafe opening at this time or for other reasons doesn’t want to reopen, there’s not a requirement to do so.”

On May 1, museums and libraries can also open at 25% capacity, and outdoor sports with four players or fewer can be played. Although churches were not shut down under the original order, Abbott said they will also be able to expand their capacity.

During phase two, businesses opened during phase one can expand their capacity to 50% starting May 18 if there is not an extreme increase in cases.

“We are not just going to open up and hope for the best,” Abbott said. “Instead, we will put measures in place that will help businesses open while also containing the virus and keeping Texas safe.”

Abbott said while there is no set date for when bars, gyms, barber shops and salons will be able to reopen, he hopes that they can open by mid-May if there is not an increase in cases.

“There are some businesses that I want to open, that Texans want open, that the doctors advised were simply not safe enough to open at this particular time,” Abbott said. “We’re working with our medical team as well as working with members of the industry sectors to open these businesses as soon as possible.”

Abbott said in counties that have five or fewer cases of COVID-19, businesses can operate at 50% capacity. In addition, licensed health care professionals are available to return to work with less restrictions.

Abbott said in Texas, the infection rate of COVID-19 has been on the decline, and hospitalization rates have stayed steady.

Texas just finished phase one of their tracing and testing program, which will allow statewide contact tracing to track COVID-19 cases. Abbott said Texas should be exceeding their goal of testing to 25,000 tests per day in early May. Abbott said Texas will look at data such as hospitalization and death rates to monitor how the openings will affect COVID-19 rates.

Abbott said the state has more than tripled the Texas Workforce Commission staff, and over $2 billion has been paid out in unemployment benefits.

“The lives saved are priceless, but the price has been steep,” Abbott said. “Many have lost jobs. Others have lost businesses. Many are struggling to pay their bills.”