Texas Begins to Re-Open

Houston County in Phase One

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

TEXAS – On Monday, April 27, Governor Greg Abbott announced the first phase of re-opening the Texas economy while minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

“We have worked together for a cause far greater than ourselves. Millions of Texans have sacrificed their livelihoods as well as many of their cherished moments in an unprecedented effort to prioritize the health and safety of our fellow Texans,” the governor said.

“It has been a collective effort,” he furthered, “to slow the spread of COVID-19. Because of your efforts, the COVID-19 infection rate has been on the decline over the past 17 days. Because of your efforts, especially the wok of our doctors, nurses and all health care providers, our hospitalization rate has held steady.”

As he continued, Abbott said the executive order he issued earlier this month (GA-16) which served as the first step to re-opening Texas was set to expire on April 30 at midnight “… and I will let it expire as scheduled.”

“Now,” the governor said, “it is time to set a new course – a course that responsibly opens up business in Texas. We will open in a way that uses safe standards – safe standards for businesses, for employees and for their customers – standards based upon data and doctors.”    

According to Abbott, under Phase I, certain services and activities are allowed to open with limited occupancy, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) is issuing minimum standard health protocols for all businesses and individuals to follow.

“Phase 1 begins this Friday, May 1. If we can contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period, we can move to Phase 2 as early as May 18. Phase 2 will open more businesses and allow businesses opened in Phase 1 to expand their operations. We need to see two weeks of data to confirm no flare ups,” he said.  

The governor also outlined special guidance for Texans over 65 and detailed a comprehensive mitigation plan for nursing homes in Texas. He also announced a statewide testing and tracing program developed by DSHS that will help public health officials quickly identify and test Texans who contract COVID-19 and mitigate further spread of the virus.

“Now more than ever, Texans must remain committed to safe distancing practices that reduce the spread of COVID-19, and we must continue to rely on doctors and data to provide us with the safest strategies to restore Texans’ livelihoods. We must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable Texans from exposure to COVID-19. If we remain focused on protecting the lives of our fellow Texans, we can continue to open the Lone Star State,” he said.

According to Executive Order GA-18:

  • All retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls are permitted to reopen on Friday, May 1. These services must limit their capacity to 25% of their listed occupancy. Within shopping malls, the food-court dining areas, play areas, and interactive displays and settings must remain closed.
  • All museums and libraries may open under the same 25% occupancy limitation, but interactive areas of museums must remain closed. State libraries and museums will open by May 1, and local public museums and libraries may reopen only if permitted by the local government. Single-person offices may reopen as well.
  • Churches and places of worship remain open. Outdoor sports are allowed to resume so long as no more than four participants are playing together at one time. Certain social distancing practices must also be followed. Local government operations, including county and municipal government operations relating to permitting, recordation, and document-filing services, may reopen as determined by the local government.
  • DSHS has recommended minimum standard health protocols for all individuals, all employers and employees, as well as industry-specific protocols for retailers, retail customers, restaurants, restaurant patrons, movie theaters, movie theater customers, museums and libraries, museum and library visitors, outdoor sports participants, single-person offices, and low COVID-19 counties. These protocols are outlined in the Open Texas Checklists within the Governor’s report beginning on page 20.
  • Essential services such as farmers and ranchers, grocery and drug stores, banks, and gas stations will continue to operate. Public swimming pools, bars, gyms, cosmetology salons, massage establishments, interactive amusement venues, such as bowling alleys and video arcades, and tattoo and piercing studios will remain closed through Phase I. Nursing homes, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities must remain closed to visitors unless to provide critical assistance.

Abbott also established increased occupancy protocols for certain counties with five or fewer laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19. Those counties may, on an individualized basis, increase occupancy limits to up to 50% for restaurants, retail, shopping malls, museums and libraries, and movie theaters if they meet certain criteria. As of April 28, Houston County had seven confirmed cases. 

The county judge must certify and affirm to DSHS that the following standards have been investigated and confirmed to be met:

  • The county had five or fewer COVID-19 laboratory confirmed cases on April 30, 2020 or, at a later date, five or fewer active COVID-19 cases as verified by DSHS.
  • The county has created a list of testing opportunities in the county or the area.
  • The county has been in contact with its designated regional advisory council to ensure the community is prepared for any needed health care transfers.
  • The county has provided public notice to the residents of the county, including: signs and symptoms of COVID-19; recommended health and safety protocols in line with CDC guidance; Information regarding how residents can get tested in the area; and a link to the DSHS website where residents can go to learn about community spread in nearby communities, in order to help county residents understand their risk to exposure if they travel regularly outside of the county.
  • The county has contacted each of the following types of facilities located in the county to ensure they are complying with Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines regarding COVID-19: Nursing homes; assisted living facilities; Industrial, agricultural, or business facilities with a significant number of employees; and city or county jails.
  • The county is equipped and prepared to protect vulnerable populations, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • The county has documented procedures to be activated if a resident becomes COVID-19 positive, including procedures to take appropriate measures as necessary in line with the plan to open Texas.
  • The county has contacted DSHS in order to create a plan to ensure contact tracing will occur within 48 hours of a positive test reported to DSHS.

Phase I will begin Friday, May 1 and continue until at least May 18. The governor will continue to evaluate the next steps for the state.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].

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