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Gov. Abbott Says Businesses Can Reopen In Phases, Starting Friday

By Marisa Charpentier, KUT

Retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls can reopen Friday provided they limit occupancy to no more than 25%, Gov. Greg Abbott said.

At a news conference Monday, Abbott said he was letting his stay-at-home order expire and allowing businesses to reopen in phases.  

"We're not just going to open up and hope for the best," he said. There will be "measures in place to contain the virus and keep Texas safe."

Abbott said it was not yet safe for salons, barbershops, bars and gyms to open, but that if Texans continue safe-distancing practices to tamp down new COVID-19 cases, they could be allowed to open in mid-May.

Museums and libraries can also reopen at 25% capacity, though hands-on exhibits must remain closed. 

Sole proprietors can safely return to work as well, Abbott said, and places of worship — which were already considered essential services — can expand capacity starting Friday. Licensed health care professionals whose jobs had been put on hold, like dentists, can return to work with few restrictions as well. 

Outdoor sports with no more than four participants playing together – such as tennis or golf – can also resume.

The governor's order supersedes all local orders. He noted, however, that whether businesses reopen is up to them; it's not mandatory. 

Watch the news conference below:

Phase two involves opening more businesses and expanding occupancy to 50%. Abbott said the state could move to phase two as early as May 18, but to do so, the state needs to see two weeks of data showing there are no flare-ups of COVID-19 cases.

“That is exactly why now more than ever Texans must continue safe-distancing practices,” he said. “If we do that, we will be able to expand into phase two, opening up our economy even more.”

A key element of the process, he said, is protecting the most vulnerable Texans – people over age 65 and those with underlying conditions. Vulnerable people should stay at home as much as possible, he said, and businesses should make special accommodations to limit their exposure. He said the state is redoubling efforts to protect seniors in nursing homes and other facilities.

“The bottom line is this: The more we do to protect our vulnerable senior population, the faster we can safely open business in Texas,” Abbott said. 

The governor said the decision on which businesses can begin opening was based on guidance from doctors advising his team on safe medical practices. The doctors also prescribed  health guidelines for businesses and customersthat focus on minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

While business closures and stay-at-home orders have spurred  protests at the Capitol this month, many Texans support these measures, according to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Two-thirds of registered Texas voters agree with statewide and local decisions to suspend nonessential business, and more than three-quarters of them support stay-at-home orders.

A key component in opening Texas safely is having an effective testing and contact tracing system, Abbott said. Contact tracing is the process of locating people who have been in contact with an infected person so they can self-isolate for 14 days and not spread the disease if they have it. 

The governor said the state has already developed a “robust testing and tracing program,” but plans to expand the program. So far, a team of more than 1,100 state and local contact tracers has been mobilized, he said, and 1,000 more will be added in the next two weeks. He said the goal is to have 4,000 contact tracers next month.

Testing will increase, too, Abbott said.

“When you aggregate all of the tests run by state and local governments with the rapidly increasing number of tests run by the private sector, we should easily exceed our goal of 25,000 tests per day," he said.

Texas has been doing between 5,000 and 10,000 tests per day.

As of Monday afternoon, 25,297 cases of the coronavirus disease have been reported in Texas, and 290,517 tests have been administered, according to the  Texas Department of State Health Services. There have been 663 deaths related to the disease in the state, and 11,170 have recovered.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.