Heartened by a perceived slowing in the spread of COVID-19, Governor Greg Abbott is reopening the state of Texas in stages, including the immediate reopening of state parks on April 20.
Retail stores will also be allowed to reopen on April 24 — but for pickup and delivery only.
"Because of the efforts by everyone, we're seeing glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us," Abbott said in a press conference on April 17. "The number of hospitalizations is beginning to level off, and we have a steady supply of PPE masks and hospital rooms. The number of deaths will not come close to early dire predictions. Texas has the second biggest number of recoveries in all of the states in America. We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus."
Schools, however, are closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 year. That includes all schools: private, public, and higher education.
The Governor has also appointed a statewide strike force composed of health professionals and industry leaders such as Michael Dell, Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale, restaurateurs Tilman Fertitta and Balous Miller, Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John William Hellerstedt, and Austin jewelry queen Kendra Scott, to oversee a gradual re-opening, under the assumption that COVID-19 will not see a resurgence.
"We want to begin the process of re-opening the Texas economy and helping people return to work, but using the safest standards, guided by data and doctors," he said. "It must occur in stages, and we must put health and safety first, including the protection of vulnerable populations."
The first stage consists of reopening state parks and allowing retail stores to re-open, but both with provisos:
- State parks. Visitors must wear facial coverings, maintain a 6-foot distance, and cannot gather in groups of more than five. (Read more about the requirements here.)
- Retail stores. Customers cannot enter the store, but can order online and pick up goods or have them delivered.
"If the data continues to show flatlining and a decline in COVID-19, that is a signal that we can begin a process of reopening businesses that observe the strictest strategies — limiting the number of people in the business, following safe practices such as distance and sanitation," he said. "We've been going for more than a month with strategies showing that businesses have been able to provide food and products by delivery to cars and delivery to homes, and such businesses can be expanded throughout the retail sector as long as the retail sector is adhering to the same safe practices, with this exception that the expansion to retail will not allow people to go into retail stores but it will allow them to pick up items or have them delivered to their homes."
In addition, restrictions on surgical procedures will be relaxed starting April 22.
"Doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical staff have been sidelined to free up capacity, but Texas has plenty of hospital capacity and a solid supply chain of PPE," Abbott said. "We have patients who desperately need medical treatment, and it's time to allow those doctors and nurses to return to work. This will allow doctors to diagnose and treat more medical conditions without permission, for example, a diagnostic test for suspected cancer."
Stage 2 begins on April 27, when another potential round of openings may be announced — possibly restaurants, Abbott said — depending on the progress of the virus and other factors.
"Revised plans will be announced based on how well contained COVID-19 is," Abbott said. "It could possibly include opening more venues like restaurants and movie theaters, and expanding elective surgeries."