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A statewide strike force, a testing regime, mass testing to identify those who are positive, negative, or virus carriers all sound like they take a page out of George Orwell’s 1984 or Stephen King’s The Stand. Gov. Greg Abbott says it’s the only way for Texas to move forward and return Texans to work while containing the spread of COVID-19. 

The virus has infected 700,000 U.S. citizens and killed 35,000 of them, Abbott pointed out at a Friday afternoon press conference. 

In that press conference, Abbott issued a series of executive orders that correlate with Trump’s Opening Up America Again plan, which Trump announced Thursday, and encouraged Texans to remain resilient as his strike force begins the process of opening Texas, which he said is second in the nation with the most COVID-19 recoveries.  

“The glimmers of the worst of COVID-19 is nearly behind us,” Abbott said. 

Trump’s plan falls into three phases to reopen the economy and requires states to showcase a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period as well as covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period. In addition, they also have to show a reduction in positive tests within the same period, be treating all patients without crisis care, and have a robust testing system, which includes emerging antibody testing, in place for at-risk healthcare workers. 

The phase approach will help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 resurgence and protect the most vulnerable in communities, according to Opening Up America Again guidelines.

Abbott took a similar approach with three new executive orders to open up Texas again, claiming they must do so in stages. “Obviously, not all businesses can open at once on May 1,” he said and indicated that he would announce additional openings April 27 if infection is declining and outbreaks are contained. 

Abbott’s first executive order established the governor’s Strike Force to Open Texas, a group of nationally recognized health experts with public and private sector leaders. They’re tasked with figuring out ways businesses can reopen while adhering to safe practices such as physical distancing. 

In his next executive order, he is allowing nonessential medical procedures to resume April 22, but warned it must be done in ways that allows health care professionals to still treat COVID-19 patients and have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment. “Current restrictions will be loosened,” Abbott said. “This will allow doctors to diagnose and treat more medical treatments — for example, a diagnostic test for suspect cancer.”  

He provided more details in a press release:

“Beginning at 11:59 p.m. on April 21 through 11:59 p.m. on May 8, all licensed health care professionals and all licensed health care facilities must continue to postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without timely performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death as determined by a patient’s physician. Exceptions now include:

Any procedure that, if performed in accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice, would not deplete the hospital capacity or the PPE needed to cope with COVID-19, or

Any surgery or procedure performed in a licensed health care facility that has certified in writing to Texas HHSC both (1) that it will reserve at least 25% of its hospital capacity for treatment of COVID-19 patients, accounting for the range of clinical severity of COVID-19 patients, and (2) that it will not request any PPE from any public source — whether federal, state, or local — for the duration of the COVID-19 disaster.”

Abbott’s third executive order focused on the retail sector of Texas. “During the battle, we’ve seen them sell products without people going into stores,” he said. “You simply order the product, pick it up or have it delivered to you while containing COVID-19. All stores should be operating as ‘retail to go.’”

Beginning next Friday, more retail stores will be allowed to open if they’re following the “Retail-to-Go” model and using safe practices to reduce exposure to COVID-19. For more information about how to do so, he recommended visiting is also establishing enhanced standards for the vulnerable at senior living centers, which have seen a mass outbreak in COVID-19 cases across the country. He wants the centers to implement infection control policies and minimize the movement of staff between facilities. 

As for physical and mental health, he claimed,  “Going to parks is an effective way to [address] those needs.” 

To address those needs, Abbott is allowing state parks to reopen Monday, but people must wear face coverings or masks (preferably not clown ones) and maintain a physical distance of six feet unless they are members of the same family. They also can’t gather in groups larger than five people. 

Finally, he addressed schools and said what we all expected: they must remain closed for the remainder of the semester. He said the Texas Education Agency will figure out how to handle graduation at public schools. College graduations will no doubt follow a similar path. 

Abbott plans to take additional steps Monday, April 27, to open up Texas again.

“Texans are battling a colossal challenge, an invisible enemy that has tested our lives and livelihoods,” Abbott said. “Part of the Texas brand is our ability to overcome challenges, and we’ve overcome far more challenges than we can count. Together we can overcome and we can adopt safe strategies to prevent the spread of covid 19, and step by step we will open Texas.” 

Christian McPhate

Christian has been working as a freelance journalist in North Texas for more than a decade. His stories have appeared in the Dallas Observer, the Houston Press, and Rolling Stone magazine. He covers a...