Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced his next wave of reopenings designed to restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic, saying child care facilities can reopen immediately, bars can open Friday with limited capacity and sporting events can return without fans at the end of the month.
Abbott also said he would permit restaurants to operate at 50% capacity starting Friday, up from 25% that’s allowed now.
At the same time, Abbott exempted two hot-spot regions — Amarillo and El Paso — from his latest decisions, saying they would need to wait a week — until May 29 — while the state's surge response teams work to contain outbreaks in each area.
Abbott’s news conference came 18 days after he began a phased reopening of the state, starting with letting restaurants, stores, movie theaters and malls open up at 25% capacity. He then allowed barbershops and salons to reopen May 8 under certain restrictions. Monday was the first day gyms were allowed to open, also under restrictions.
Previously, child care was only available to workers deemed essential by the state. Abbott's announcement Monday allows child care centers to reopen to help all workers returning to their jobs.
In addition to bars, Abbott is letting a host of other establishments reopen Friday, including bowling alleys, bingo halls, skating rinks, rodeos, zoos and aquariums. In the lead-up to Monday, however, the fate of bars had drawn the most attention, especially after Abbott began allowing restaurants to reopen May 1. All the businesses opening Friday will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.
For bars that reopen Friday, the state is recommending that customers remain seated at tables of no more than six people, among other restrictions. Dancing is discouraged.
The next round of reopenings will come May 31, when Abbott will permit youth summer camps to reopen — as well as let certain professional sports to resume without spectators. The sports include basketball, baseball, car racing, football, golf, softball and tennis. Leagues will first have to apply to — and receive approval from — the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Abbott’s news conference Monday came a day after the total coronavirus cases in Texas increased to at least 47,784, including 1,336 deaths, according to the latest data from the Department of State Health Services. Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 222 are reporting cases.
The number of cases — and deaths — keeps rising in Texas, though the testing tally has also gone up, reaching 693,276 as of Sunday. Abbott, meanwhile, continues to highlight the relatively stable number of hospitalizations and declining percentage of infections found among people who are tested.
While testing has ramped up, it is still failing to regularly reach Abbott’s goal of 30,000 tests a day. Over the last week, the state averaged 25,614 tests per day, which Abbott cited at his news conference as he argued that the numbers that he is watching most closely have been moving in the right direction.
However, in recent days, the Department of State Health Services revealed it is including an unknown quantity of antibody tests in its testing total, casting uncertainty over the reliability of that data for the time being. Abbott seemed to contradict that Monday, saying that the state is "not commingling" the different types of tests and that the antibody testing numbers "will be provided separately." Reached via email after Abbott's news conference, a DSHS spokesman, Chris Van Deusen, did not address the conflicting statements but confirmed DSHS is working to separate the antibody testing figures.
After Abbott's news conference, Democrats continued to argue that Abbott was reopening the Texas economy too quickly.
"Gov. Abbott is gambling with our lives by reopening in this fashion," state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said on a state Democratic Party call. "If he is wrong and we are right, then a whole lot of people are going to die."
Notably, Monday marked the first time that Abbott singled out specific regions as not ready to take part in the latest reopenings.
Amarillo has been a hot spot due to outbreaks at its meatpacking plants, and earlier this month, the state dispatched one of its surge response teams to the city to try to get things under control. Of the 1,801 new cases that Texas reported Saturday, over 700 were linked to the Amarillo meatpacking plants, according to Abbott’s office.
In El Paso, the situation has deteriorated enough that the county judge, Ricardo Samaniego, and other local officials asked Abbott last week to exempt the county from the next reopenings until the county sees a two-week downward trend in the number of positive cases or the positive test rate. Abbott said Monday that El Paso's hospital capacity is "too close for comfort at this particular time."
The one-week delay "will give those communities and our surge team response the time needed to slow the spread and maintain hospital capacity," Abbott said. "It will ensure those communities safely move into phase two."
The counties subject to the delay are El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore and Deaf Smith. The latter four are all in the Amarillo region.
Cassi Pollock contributed reporting.