Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Reveals Plans to Reopen Venues, Including Retail Stores, Restaurants and Malls, From May 1

Texas will begin lifting coronavirus lockdown measures from May 1. All retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries will be reopened but occupancy limitations and other restrictions will apply, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced in a statement.

The venues reopening will be limited to operating at 25 percent of their total capacity, while all interactive elements at these venues will remain closed. At shopping malls, the food court dining areas, play areas, interactive displays and settings will also remain closed.

State libraries and museums will reopen by May 1, while local public museums and libraries can reopen if permitted by the local government.

"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," the statement said.

"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," the statement adds.

The 14-day quarantine required for those traveling from Louisiana has also been lifted. But the 14-day quarantine mandate remains in place for those traveling from states including California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Washington as well as the cities of Atlanta in Georgia, Chicago in Illinois, Detroit in Michigan and Miami in Florida.

The minimum health protocols to be followed by all individuals include maintaining a six feet distance from those who are not from the same household, self-screening for COVID-19 virus symptoms before entering any business venue and washing or disinfecting hands upon entering a business venue and interacting with customers, employees and items at the venue.

All individuals should also "consider wearing cloth face coverings (over the nose and mouth) when entering a business, or when within 6 feet of another person who is not a member of the individual's household. If available, individuals should consider wearing non-medical grade face masks," the governor's report states.

The report also outlined more specific health protocols to be followed by different venues including restaurants where tables will be limited to six people and a six feet distance must be maintained by all parties at all times, including while waiting to be seated.

A hand sanitizing station will be made available for customers to use upon entering the restaurant. No condiments, silverware, flatware, glassware, or "other traditional table top items" can be left on any unoccupied table. Condiments will be provided upon request and in single use (non-reusable) portions only, while new disposable menus will be provided for every patron. If a buffet is offered at the venue, restaurant employees will serve the food to customers.

Churches have been advised to "strongly encourage" members of the congregation falling within the at-risk population (those aged 65 and older or with other health conditions) to participate in the service remotely or to provide a designated area at the facility exclusively for attendees within the at-risk population.

Church attendees will also need to maintain at least two empty seats (six feet) between each other, while every other row of seats is also left empty. People from the same household or those who are not from the same household but who are attending the service together are allowed to sit adjacent to each other. But they must keep two empty seats on either side.

Similar restrictions will apply at movie theaters, including a two-seat spacing between customers, accompanied by alternate empty rows. All seats and other frequently touched areas of the theaters will be disinfected between screenings.

Full details on health protocols for specific venues, as well as more detailed guidelines for those aged 65 and older, are outlined in the Texans Helping Texans: The Governor's Report to Open Texas.

The governor also announced plans to ramp up testing in the latest report, which states: "Testing is the foundation on which the plan to open Texas is built. Testing can identify critical hotspots, catch outbreaks before they spread, and indicate where support is needed most."

Currently only around one percent (300,384 people) of Texas, the country's second largest state with a population of 28.9 million, has been tested for the virus.

The state has maximized its testing capacity to conduct 15,000 to 20,000 tests a day, with a goal to reach 30,000 per day in the near term.

More than 300 testing sites are now available and at least 17 mobile drive-thru teams have been trained and deployed by the Texas Military Department to serve rural areas. The state is expected to have 25 fully operational mobile testing teams by the end of April.

"The State's testing policy is aligned with CDC guidance and directed by DSHS. Testing is currently focused specifically on hospitalized patients, those in long-term care facilities,healthcare workers and first-responders, and Texans over the age of 65. As resources allow, individuals with mild symptoms could also be tested," the report confirms.

"The State is not recommending that individuals without symptoms just get a test to check the result. CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and DSHS [Texas Department of State Health Services] testing strategy is being followed," the report adds.

The governor's report also outlined its statewide contact tracing program, which is being rolled out in three phases. The second phase began on April 27, while the third phase will begin on May 11.

The governor's plan to reopen Texas has been criticized by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is urging residents to stay safe by staying home.

"Just because something can be open doesn't mean it should be open," Jenkins said in an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett this week.

"Most other plans that open businesses in phases don't put places like movie theaters in the first group to open," Jenkins said. "The orders have changed, but the science that will keep us safe has not," he added.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the health authority in El Paso County, also expressed reservations: "I'm not completely comfortable with that," he told the El Paso ABC affiliate.

Ocaranza believes social distancing practices, maintaining proper hygiene and staying indoors, unless it is imperative to leave the house, should still be followed.

The latest announcement also follows several protests against the current stay-at-home order, including this weekend in the city of Frisco, within the Dallas-Forth Worth metro area, calling for the reopening of non-essential businesses. Many protesters were reported not to be following social distancing guidelines during the demonstrations.

Earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed against Abbott by pastors and other activists, claiming the current stay-at-home order violates their constitutional rights.

Texas has reported nearly 26,200 cases, including 690 deaths, according to the latest report Tuesday from the Texas state health authorities.

El Paso, Texas, coronavirus protest, April 2020
Demonstrators gather near the El Paso County Court House to protest the state's stay-at-home order amid the pandemic on April 25, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. Getty Images

Texas joins several other states that have started lifting restrictions for certain businesses in recent days including Tennessee, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma and Georgia.

New York, the country's worst-hit state, also revealed plans for a phased reopening earlier this week, with some companies to potentially reopen after May 15, when New York's stay-at-home order is expected to end.

New Jersey, the country's second worst-hit state, is "still a number of weeks away" from reopening, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

The novel coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, has infected more than 3.1 million people across at least 185 countries and regions, including over a million in the U.S. Over 932,500 have recovered from infection, while more than 217,300 have died, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the U.S.

Coronavirus COVID-19 United States Statista
Spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

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