It seems the Open Texas Facebook group’s prayers were somewhat answered Monday afternoon. 

“For the past two months, Texans have forged a bond of unity and trust and worked together for a cause far greater than yourself,” Abbott said at a Monday afternoon press conference. “Millions of Texans have sacrificed their livelihoods and precious moments to prioritize the health and safety of their fellow Texans. 

“Because of your efforts, COVID-19 has been on the decline over the past 17 days.” 

With this thought in mind, and the fact that hospital rates have held steady and capacity has remained abundant, Abbott decided to move forward with phase 1 of his Open Texas plan and allow Texans out of their homes April 30 and certain nonessential businesses to open May 1.

Those businesses include all retail stores, restaurants, malls, and movie theaters, but don’t include barber shops, hair salons, or, sadly, bars. They’re allowed to reopen at 25 percent capacity, despite what local shelter-in-place orders may declare. Some restaurants, like Sushi Marquee and Shell Shack, have already announced that they are reopening on Friday.

And if the businesses are located in a county with only five or fewer COVID-19 cases, which Abbott said was the case for the majority of counties in Texas, they can increase their capacity to 50 percent if they are complying with coronavirus protocols. 

All museums and libraries are also allowed to open.  

“Now it’s time to set a new course and responsibly open up business in Texas,” Abbott said.

He agreed that his move may seem bold when compared to certain county officials like Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins who have been extending their shelter-in-place order beyond Abbott’s April 30 deadline. But he pointed out that this is “again permission to open, not a requirement to do so.” 

Abbott said they’d been planning for this day since March and stocked up on PPE supplies, closed schools to slow the virus’ spread, and required travelers from other states to self-quarantine.   

Besides something had to be done, Abbott seemed to be saying, flanked by several members of his COVID-19 strike force. Too many people are filing for unemployment (nearly 2 million in Texas). About 1,100 National Guard, he pointed out, are helping distribute food at area food banks, which continue to see an alarming increase in need. Abbott acknowledged the danger of reopening businesses too quickly and agreed they’re obviously playing with fire. He mentioned places like Hong Kong and Singapore, which have been experiencing a COVID-19 resurgence after restrictions were lifted. 

“We are not going to open up and hope for the best,” Abbott said. “We’re going to find ways to open them while containing the virus.” 

Yet, Abbott felt strongly that nonessential businesses would be able to operate and still contain the spread of COVID-19 if they adhere to certain doctor-recommended requirements under his Open Texas plan. The doctors, he said, were the ones who recommended they open the Texas economy in phases instead of allowing businesses to all reopen at once. 

Every move his strike force is making to reopen the Texas economy, he reiterated, is advised by medical professionals and considered with the public’s safety in mind. 

Abbott used essential businesses as an example of how businesses could operate under phase one of his plan. Auto repair shops, pet shops, banks, grocery stores, and other businesses have all been operating with COVID-19 spreading in the community, yet officials still have been able to contain it and see a decrease in its spread. This was possible, he said, because they had limited capacity and implemented coronavirus safety guidelines like social distancing.

Under phase one of Abbott’s plan, which begins Friday and lasts two weeks, businesses will be allowed to open if they limit capacity to 25 percent and follow these same guidelines. Phase 2 is projected to take effect May 18 and will expand allowed capacity to 50 percent.

Abbott, of course, cautioned that they need two weeks of data that show no flare ups before they can move on to the next phase.  

“That is why,” he said, “now more than ever Texans must continue safe distancing practices.”

Moving into phase one requires Texans to protect what Abbott called “the most important element”: the vulnerable population. 

Only about 20 percent of seniors test positive for COVID-19 but 70 percent of those who die from it are 65 and older, Abbott said. 

So what do they have to do? Remain at home if at all possible. Doing so will, according to Abbott, “reduce COVID-19 deaths and expand business operations for a number of Texans who reenter the workforce.” 

Abbott said they are going to redouble their efforts to protect seniors at nursing homes and senior living centers with better COVID-19 protocols. 

He didn’t have much to offer barbers and hair stylists, other than assurances that they were still discussing how those businesses can reopen since they are so close to their customers. 

He said the same applies to summer camps. He understands they are important, but his team is still working to figure out how safe ways they can open. 

Discussing summer camps turned into a conversation about the testing and tracing process. He said they have already mobilized a team of 1,100 contract tracers and implemented an IT tracing application and tracing call center under phase 1. 

Phase 2 began Monday and over the next two weeks, they are going to add another 1,000 tracers and deploy a contact tracing application statewide and the tracing call center. They plan to build a team of 4,000 contact tracers in phase 3. 

The contact tracers will zero in on those who may be contaminated with the virus and isolate them, those who have been in contact with them, and everyone else who may have been in contact with them for 14 days. 

He claimed they should be able to exceed 25,000 tests per day. 

At the end of the Monday afternoon press conference, Abbott thanked President Donald Trump for helping the state and basically answering calls on a 24-hour basis. He also encouraged Texans to keep in mind four important ways to beat this virus: 

  1. Commit to continue safe-distancing practices
  2. Rely on doctors and data to provide safe strategies 
  3. Focus on protecting the most vulnerable
  4. Keep in mind that it is entrepreneurs who drive the Texas economy, and they need to be unleashed to restore our livelihoods. 

“We are Texans,” Abbott said. “We got this.” 

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Christian McPhate

Christian McPhate is the managing editor of Local Profile. He has been working as a journalist for more than a decade. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including the Dallas Morning News,...

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