Texas Governor Loosens Some Restrictions in Push to Reopen Economy

Next week, state parks will open, restrictions on nonessential surgeries will be lifted and some businesses will be allowed to serve customers again.

A man walks past a closed tattoo shop in Dallas on March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Friday announced a gradual reopening of the state’s economy, easing restrictions on businesses and medical procedures during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Together we can bend the curve, together we can overcome this pandemic. We can get folks back to work, we can adopt safe strategies that prevent the spread of Covid-19, and step-by-step we will open Texas,” Abbott said during an afternoon press conference detailing his latest executive orders.

According to the Republican governor, state parks will open Monday and restrictions on nonessential surgeries will be lifted Wednesday so that doctors no longer have to seek exemptions from state officials.

By next Friday, some stores in Texas can reopen for business under a “retail-to-go” model that minimizes contact with customers through deliveries to their cars or homes.

“Now, understand this: opening Texas must occur in stages. Obviously, not all businesses can open all at once,” Abbott said, adding that the lifted restrictions will only apply to businesses that pose “minimal or no threat to expanding Covid-19.”

Though Abbott’s orders relax some emergency regulations, he also announced the closure of all schools — public, private and colleges — through the rest of the academic year.

The governor also said that more openings could be announced on April 27, “depending on how well-contained that Covid-19 is in the state of Texas,” listing restaurants and movie theaters as businesses that could be reopened.

He also promised more changes in May, “when it has been determined that the infection rate continues to decline, that hospital capacity remains available and when testing capacity are sufficient to detect and contain outbreaks of Covid-19.”

“In opening Texas, we must be guided by data and by doctors,” Abbott said.

One of the executive orders signed Friday was more restrictive in distinguishing prohibited medical procedures from allowed ones than Abbott suggested in the press conference. The order excludes medical procedures that will not “deplete the hospital capacity or the personal protective equipment” supply from the governor’s earlier prohibition on nonessential surgeries.

But surgeries and other procedures may only be performed if the facility “will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for treatment of Covid-19 patients” and “will not request any personal protective equipment from any public source, whether federal, state, or local, for the duration of the Covid-19 disaster.”

When a reporter asked Abbott if abortions blocked by his previous order will be allowed under the new order, the governor said abortions “are not included” and that it “will be a decision for the courts to make,” alluding to a Planned Parenthood lawsuit against the state proceeding in Austin federal court.

Abbott also announced that a “strike force” made up of medical experts and other leaders will advise him on safely loosening restrictions on business in Texas. It will be chaired by James Huffines, an Austin banker and former University of Texas Board of Regents member. Mike Toomey, former chief of staff to ex-Governor Rick Perry, will serve as its chief operating officer.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Comptroller Glenn Hagar, as well as medical advisers, will also serve on the team.

Patrick sparked widespread outrage after he suggested on a March 23 Fox News broadcast that senior citizens, including himself, should be willing to sacrifice their wellbeing for the health of the economy.

“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in,” Patrick said on Tucker Carlson’s show. “And that doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that.”

The Texas Democratic Party preempted Abbott’s announcement Friday with a statement panning the idea of reopening the state.

“Texas ranks second to last in the country for testing and isn’t estimated to peak in coronavirus deaths for another two weeks,” a party spokesperson said. “Prematurely reopening Texas threatens to harm our economic and health prospects in the long-term with the subsequent havoc that will occur with more coronavirus deaths.”

Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, also lambasted the governor’s mandate in a separate statement.

“Experts agree that prematurely lifting social distancing measures ‘would wip[e] out a big swath of people of all ages,’” Garcia wrote. “Abbott’s order breaks from other governors by putting short-term profits over lives. In a catch-22, Abbott based his shortsighted decision-making on the severely underreported number of cases in Texas, which in turn is due to his administration’s failure to adequately test.”

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