Gov. Greg Abbott unveiled an executive order Thursday requiring visitors flying to Texas from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans to self-quarantine for 14 days during the coronavirus pandemic.
The order aligns Texas with federal guidance announced Wednesday that aims to contain the spread of the virus outside New York, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. New Orleans, the biggest city in neighboring Louisiana, is seeing its own rise in cases.
"This is intended simply to achieve the goals that have been articulated by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and by the White House organization focused on reducing the spread of the coronavirus in the United States," Abbott said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol in Austin.
The executive order only applies to people coming from airports in the four locations, not by roadways, Abbott said. They will be required to self-quarantine for the 14-day period or for the duration of their stay in Texas, whichever is shorter.
Upon arrival to Texas, a visitor will fill out a form designating a self-quarantine location such as a hotel or residence, Abbott said. The order will be enforced by the Texas Department of Public Safety, whose troopers will make visits to the location to make sure the person is complying. Quarantined people are not allowed to allow visitors other than health care professionals into or out of the locations, and they are prohibited from visiting public places. Failure to follow the executive order can result in a fine of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail — or both, Abbott said.
As of Thursday, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had a combined 42,535 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 466 deaths. New Orleans had just under 1,000 confirmed cases.
Abbott said he added New Orleans to the executive order at the recommendation of Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. Abbott said they spoke today and discussed the "dramatic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Louisiana, especially New Orleans."
Abbott told reporters that the executive order allows him to include other states, but he has not received advice to do so yet from Birx and other experts. California and Washington would "probably be the next ones on the list if we were to expand it," Abbott said, referring to two other states with big outbreaks.
Texas has at least 1,396 confirmed coronavirus cases across 92 of its 254 counties, including 18 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. There have been 21,424 tests done in the state. Abbott said 100 Texans are hospitalized with the coronavirus, the first time he has revealed that number. That amounts to less than 10% of the Texans who have been infected.
Abbott said Thursday that the state was “on a very good trajectory” with testing, noting that the 21,424 total tests are up from 2,335 six days ago. That is consistent with Abbott’s previous statements saying Texas should reach the capacity to test 15,000 to 20,000 people per week.
Abbott’s efforts to contain the outbreak at the state level come as President Donald Trump continues to express hope the country’s economy can reopen by Easter, which is April 12. Asked about that timeline Thursday, Abbott said he knows there is an “urgent desire” to get back to normal but that "everyone understands that we will all be working off of the best advice of medical professionals about what is the safest way to proceed."
“The greatest probable pathway is it won’t be all at one time,” Abbott said. "Maybe we can allow certain workers to go back to work and other workers to go back to work and measure/monitor the health status along the way, but’s way too early to tell right now."