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Abbott Orders Statewide Limits On Nonessential Activity, But Won't Call It A 'Stay-At-Home' Order

The Texas Capitol Building in downtown Austin during the coronavirus pandemic. GABRIEL C. PÉREZ / KUT

By Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order Tuesday requiring Texans to limit personal interactions that could lead to the spread of COVID-19. He said people can still leave their homes to access  essential services, like groceries or medicine, however, and go outside for exercise.

Essential services will keep running, and people who work for nonessential businesses can work from home, he said.

The order lasts until April 30, and states schools will remain closed until at least May 4.

Abbott refused to call the mandate a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order, saying he doesn’t think those terms accurately reflect what this strategy really means.

“Shelter-in-place is not a good term to use for any of these strategies that have been articulated by anybody,” Abbott said. “A stay-at-home strategy would mean that you have to stay-at-home, you cannot leave home under any circumstances. That’s obviously not what we have articulated here.”

Though called stay-at-home orders,  local orders in Austin and Travis County still allow people to leave their residences for essential activities. 

The governor’s efforts to increase prevention measures come two days after President Donald Trump  extended federal social distancing guidelines to April 30. Abbott said he took the White House’s guidance in making this decision.

“As President Trump said just two days ago, now is not the time for us to let up in these distancing efforts,” Abbott said. “Now is the time instead to redouble our efforts to make sure that we do more to rid ourselves of the coronavirus.”

Abbott said religious services can continue, but should be conducted remotely or – if held in person – should follow presidential or  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Abbott said if local orders conflict with these rules, the statewide order trumps local ones. Local jurisdictions still have flexibility to impose standards not mentioned in the governor’s order, however.

Any law enforcement officer can enforce the order; violations are punishable by a fine or jail time of up to 180 days, he said.