A week ago, the members of group Indivisible Austin laid out body bags in front of the Governor’s mansion in protest. According to NBC’s Austin affiliate, KXAN, they wanted to urge Abbott to “listen to medical experts and not cave to pressure to open the state too fast, risking more lives.”
Also last week, the Thompson & Knight law firm fired a Dallas-based administrative manager for allegedly posting on social media: “Any business that tells me to put on a mask (Whole Foods on Lomo Alto) in Dallas will get told to kiss my Corona ass and will lose my business forever,” the former employee allegedly wrote. “It’s time to stop this bullshit. Do I have to show the lame security guard outside of a ghetto store my CV19 test result? I will show him my Glock 21 shooting range results.”
It’s all in response to Gov. Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas. He announced Phase One of the plan on April 27, and his hope that reopening would provide relief to the economy and allow Texans to get back to work. He also promised that if Texas could contain the spread of COVID-19, Phase Two would come as early as May 18.
“We need to see two weeks of data to confirm, no flare up of COVID-19,” Abbott said April 27.
A week later, he allowed salons and gyms to open.
On Saturday, The Texas Department of State Health Services reported more than 47,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. As the state continues to ramp up testing, they reported over 1,800 new cases, the largest single-day increase in confirmed cases in Texas since the pandemic began. But it didn’t change Abbott’s plans because hospitals aren’t being overrun by the infected.
On May 18, as promised, Abbott held a press conference to address Phase Two of his reopening plan and announced that child care centers for nonessential workers can resume immediately, and aquariums, bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, rodeos, skating rinks, rodeos, and zoos can open Friday at 25 percent capacity. It also includes personal services: massage parlors, other massage services by licensed massage therapists, electrolysis, waxing, tattoo studios, piercing studios, and hair loss treatment and growth services. Video arcades, amusement parks, and water parks, are to remain closed.
For bars, the restrictions are somewhat more stringent recommendations (not requirements). Customers, for example, should only sit at tables with no more than six people. Dancing is frowned upon.
Abbott also announced that restaurants can now increase their capacity to 50 percent Friday and schools may begin offering summer school programs, but are limited to only 10 students per classroom.
“From day one, our mission has been to use data and doctors to open Texas in a safe and responsible way to contain COVID-19,” Abbott said, explaining that it’s this critical advice from medical experts that guided him to make Monday’s announcement.
At the press conference, Abbott reminded Texans to abide by social distancing requirements “because these measures save lives.” He also laid out some of the state’s measures, such as increasing accessibility to face masks, praising the state for distributing more than one million face masks per day.
He was proud to report that testing has also increased, claiming the state has more than doubled the number of tests giving in March and April combined. They are now averaging more than 25,000 tests a day, not too far from his original goal mark of 25,000 to 30,000 tests a day.
As of May 18, about 723,000 tests have been performed, and 48,693 cases have been reported with 1,347 fatalities, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Collin County reports 1,028 cases, Denton County is at 1,069, and Dallas County – at 7,455 – is the second-highest in the state.
However, Abbott’s claim about testing has recently become complicated as public understanding of testing changes. As Texas Observer discovered, the official data, published by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) includes some antibody tests given as well, though a DSHS spokesperson could not tell them how many.
This practice became a problem in Virginia. According to Richmond Times Dispatch, just last week, state officials in Virginia were criticized for including around 15,000 antibody tests in their official reports in order to improve Virginia’s testing ranks, “suspecting that other states were doing the same.”
Regardless, Abbott’s most important barometer of measurement seems to be hospital capacity. There are currently 1,512 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, which is the lowest total since April 21. He didn’t note what hospital capacity for the state actually is.
Some regions, however, don’t yet meet Abbott’s criteria for reopening. For example, the area around Amarillo is reporting more than 700 cases, tied to its meatpacking plants, he said. El Paso is also a hot spot. In both places, hospital capacity is “too close for comfort,” their reopenings are on pause until May 29.
On May 31, Abbott plans to allow summer camps, and youth sports programs to resume. Some professional sports—pro golf, baseball, softball, tennis, football and basketball—will return as well.
“Our fatality rate is one of the lowest in America,” Abbott claimed, despite Texas ranking near the bottom of all states in terms of fighting COVID-19. “Our recovery rate is one of the best in the country.”
He is optimistic despite concerns that we may have not yet hit our peak in death rate. “We are getting through this. But now more than ever, we need to work together as one Texas.”
For reopening businesses, the Governor’s office has released a guide of minimum standard health procedures. You can view it here.