Texas set to begin slow reopening process Friday

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center, with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, right, speaks during a news conference where he announced he would relax some restrictions imposed on businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday, April 27, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

Texas is set to begin reopening the state Friday, but a full return to normal is still a long way away.

Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order Monday detailing the process for reopening businesses and services across the state. Reopening will happen in phases, with phase one beginning Friday and set to last through at least May 18.

During phase one, retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen, but must limit their capacity to 25% of their normal maximum occupancy. Other businesses like bars, gyms, salons, barbershops and tattoo and piercing shops will remain closed. The order does not contain specific criteria for progressing to the second phase of reopening.

Waco Mayor Kyle Deaver said the balance between economic recovery and public safety is a “difficult line to walk,” and that the phased approach the Texas government is taking is the right way to safely reopen the state.

“We want to get our economy going as quickly as we can, but if we move too quickly and we’re not careful as we do it we risk having to go back into shelter in place, and that’s the last thing any of us want,” Deaver said. “This measured approach that the governor is following; most will agree that that is the right way to go at it. If you just flip the switch and start out full speed in all sectors of the economy, you’re almost guaranteed to have that kind of backslide and be back in trouble.”

The executive order does not make any exceptions for social gatherings. Deaver said Texans should continue to refrain from gathering with anyone from outside their household.

“The order that the governor issued on Monday did not change anything regarding gathering for social purposes. You still are not supposed to be gathering in any group outside your household for social purposes,” Deaver said. “Except [Governor Abbott] has carved out certain things such as, we believe, weddings and funerals that could take place because they are considered essential services.”

The City of Waco’s stay-at-home order began March 24, roughly a week before a statewide order took effect. Now, Governor Abbott’s reopening plan supersedes all local orders, meaning Waco and all other Texas cities will be following the same guidelines. At a Wednesday press conference, Mayor Kyle Deaver said this could slow down the city’s response should there be a resurgence of COVID-19, but city officials will try to be proactive.

“The governor’s order made it clear that cities and counties can not pass orders that are more restrictive than his, and so we would not be able to act as quickly as we could otherwise,” Deaver said. “We will be continuing to monitor conditions very closely and if we see things starting to get out of hand, we will certainly let the public know, and I personally would plan to reach out to the governor and let him know.”

Dr. Jackson Griggs, CEO of the Family Health Center in Waco, said during Wednesday’s press conference “around 100 tests a day” were being done in Waco and estimates that number will need to “double or even triple” to effectively monitor the virus’ spread once Waco begins reopening.

Social distancing, frequent hand-washing, wearing face coverings and other precautions should still be used to prevent further COVID-19 cases. Newly reopened businesses will also have to make changes to ensure the safety of customers and employees. Griggs said keeping fresh air circulating is one way these businesses can minimize the virus’ spread.

“As we begin to reopen restaurants and retail, we’re going to see more traffic, it will more important to have outdoor air circulating,” Griggs said. “The key issues continue to be proximity and time exposure to individuals who are carrying the virus, whether or not they have symptoms.”