AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott further relaxed restrictions on business and public events in a press conference Monday afternoon that was immediately panned by Texas Democrats.
“By using safe practices, we are slowing the spread. By protecting our most vulnerable, our fatality rate is one of the lowest in America,” Abbott said. “With the help of our hospitals, our recovery rate is one of the best in the country.”
The Republican governor permitted childcare centers, massage parlors and other beauty firms to immediately open and announced that aquariums, bars, zoos, craft breweries, natural caverns and wine tasting rooms may open at 25% capacity on Friday.
Bowling alleys, skating rinks, bingo halls and drive-in venues may also allow no more than 25% of their maximum occupancy beginning Friday. Nonessential businesses such as restaurants and retailers were previously allowed to operate at 25% capacity, a cap Abbott is increasing to 50% effective Friday.
At the end of the month, professional sports such as golfing, baseball, softball, tennis, football and basketball may play games if audiences and venues follow state guidelines. Youth sports camps and summer camps — daytime and overnight alike — such as 4-H, Bible school and scouting activities may also open, Abbott declared.
The governor directed both business owners and patrons to his office’s website to find the state’s guidelines and instructions for reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are getting through this. But now more than ever we need to work together as one Texas,” Abbott said. “So as we move into phase two, be a good neighbor. Be a Texan.”
The Republican governor kept true to his promise of averaging 25,000 tests daily, noting that “in just the first half of May, we more than doubled the number of tests that were given in all of March and April combined.”
According to a chart Abbott displayed during his address, as of Sunday the percentage of positive Covid-19 tests has dropped to 4.97%, a sharp decline from the high of 13.86% on April 13.
The governor noted that these percentages are based on a rolling seven-day average, which Abbott said helps correct for the time lag between a test’s submission and the results being returned.
The number of confirmed Covid-19 hospitalizations has been reducing more slowly. As of April 13, when fewer tests were being conducted, 1,176 hospitalized Texans tested positive for the coronavirus. That number rose to as high as 1,778 on May 1 and had fallen to 1,512 by Sunday.
Abbott noted that some counties, such as El Paso and those surrounding Amarillo, have experienced spikes in positive tests and hospitalizations. The eased regulations announced Monday will be delayed for these counties by one week.
“We’ve seen spikes happen before … so we know how to do this,” the government said to a reporter at the press conference. “As we move forward, we will be prepared to deal with spikes and expect a similar response in the future to the success we’ve seen in the past.”
The Texas Democratic Party rebutted the governor’s address in a conference call held afterward. The party’s chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, warned against the planned reopenings.
“This weekend was the most deadly in Texas,” Hinojosa began. “We all want our economy running again. We understand how difficult it is for folks when they can’t work because of this crisis. But we…risk a deadly boomerang effect.”
Celia Israel, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, focused on the victims of the crisis.
“It seems to me that Governor Abbott is more responsive to women and men who are wielding guns on the Capitol steps … instead of listening to those health care experts,” Israel said. “There’s a real tragedy accompanying every data point we read about on the news.”
The Texas Democrats’ communications director, Abhi Rahman, slammed Abbott in a press release sent before the governor’s presentation.
“Abbott has not gotten Texans the testing we need. So he inflated the numbers. Abbott has not met the benchmarks he set for himself. So he ignored them,” Rahman wrote. “Abbott lies. Texans continue to die.”