AUSTIN, Texas - For the first time in 100 years, Texas will soon be under a public health disaster declaration.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced new statewide restrictions for people and businesses Thursday to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
It marks the first time the states have been under a public health disaster since 1901. Abbott said the order was a result of guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal government.
Until Thursday, most decisions about what Texans could and couldn’t do in this outbreak had been left to local control. That's typically how Texas handles disasters. But Gov. Abbott says the facts have changed.
Abbott's executive order closes dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms across the state of Texas.
Takeout/delivery will be allowed. All schools across the state are also closed. The order starts midnight Friday and lasts through April 3, although it could be extended.
All Schools in the state that haven’t already closed must now close through April 3 and must look for online learning opportunities.
Social gatherings within the state were also limited to 10 people, and visits to nursing homes are not allowed except for critical care.
“It’s necessary because we can clearly see the trajectory that COVID-19 will follow if not effectively combated,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt with Texas Health and Human Services. “COVID-19 is the greatest public health challenge in living memory. We are seeing the true original meaning of the term viral being lived out around the world. COVID-19 is and will be lived out in Texas.”
RELATED: Coronavirus coverage
Senator John Cornyn said the federal government is doing all it can to help Texas business and growing numbers out of work because of the virus.
“We've passed two different bills so far that are designed to address the natural anxiety both about their health and also their economic circumstances,” Cornyn said. “We're working on another installment as well. We have not had anything happen like this before.”
“The most prolific thing the state of Texas can do is to make sure all unemployed people can get back to work as soon as possible is for us to lead the way to bend the curve with regard to the expansion of COVID-19 in Texas,” Abbott said.
The governor says the restrictions could get even tighter.
“The state now has quarantine authority. We don’t want to exercise that authority right off because we want to depend on the responsibility that all Texans will show,” he said. “If Texans are irresponsible in their behavior though, there are more tools where we can be more aggressive, only if needed.”
The order is not a shelter-in-place order and does not restrict domestic travel. People can still go out in public, go to the grocery store and to work, although Abbott encouraged companies to allow workers to work from home if possible.
The governor also took part in a virtual town hall hosted by Nexstar Media Thursday to answer questions about the state's response and his executive order announcing statewide closures.
Abbott hinted at changes still to come in the state of Texas. The governor foreshadowed a couple of bits of news that could come as soon as Friday.
During the town hall, Gov. Abbott said he estimates “tens of thousands” of Texas cases within weeks.
“The only thing that would be tougher is if we do not take this action right now and we turn into a situation like Italy," he said. "That would be a worst case scenario. We want to prevent that from happening.”
If the state is unable to flatten the curve, that'll put a strain on healthcare providers.
The governor says they are preparing for thousands of cases by this time next week and tens of thousands the week after that. He says he's already been in discussions with local hospitals regarding their inventories, their available beds and equipment, including what the alternatives are if there's not enough hospital beds.
“The first alternative was medical tents. The second were recently departed healthcare facilities or hospitals of which there are an abundance around the state of Texas,” he said. “But then down the chain were hotel rooms.”
Abbott says hotel rooms could be used for people who have tested positive but don't have severe symptoms and just need a place to isolate.
The governor also hinted at an announcement as soon as Friday about restrictions at the US-Mexico border that would allow commercial traffic to continue.
Abbott says his office could give a recommendation about what to do with the upcoming primary runoff elections set for May.