AUSTIN, Texas - Gov. Greg Abbott closed all schools for the remainder of the school year while also announcing steps to re-open parts of Texas amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott said the state will form a strike force that will start working on a plan to re-open the Texas economy and also issued executive orders that loosened some restrictions on medical procedures and retail.
The strike fore will be considering all strategies that will allow Texas to open for business while maintaining social distance, by relying on data and doctors.
"Because of the efforts by everyone to slow the spread, we're now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us," Abbott said.
But most notably, schools in the state won’t re-open until the fall at the earliest. Abbott said health officials recommended that the final month of the school year not take place on campus. Abbott had previously cancelled all in-person classes through early May. Online learning will continue as it has been for the past month.
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Most of the announcement on Friday, though, was spent discussing how Texas would slowly re-open.
State parks will be re-opened on Monday, but visitors will be required to wear face coverings and maintain social distance and can’t be in groups larger than five.
Another executive order says starting April 22, restrictions on some medical procedures will be loosened. All non-essential medical procedures have been banned in the state for several weeks. Some things that will be allowed include diagnostic testing and some elective surgeries.
Texas Oncology celebrated that decision, stating, "for many cancer patients, surgery is an essential and urgent component. cancer treatment cannot be paused."
All stores will be allowed to operate “retail to go” beginning next Friday, similar to the model of restaurants with curbside pickup and takeout. It sets standards on retailers for opening and more details will be released in the coming days.
"This temporary plan allows you to have access to more retailers while also minimizing contact with others," Abbott said.
Abbott said additional openings could be announced on April 27, including the possibility of reopening of restaurants and movie theaters. Revised plans will be announced and based on the level of COVID-19 cases and containment the state.
“We will prepare a phased in strategy to reopen Texas in a safe way," Abbott said. "We can be flexible in these strategies, and businesses need to understand that we can open, so long as these businesses, and all Texans, make sure that they are practicing the safest standards that will continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Abbott said the state could begin to slowly reopen in phases because of increased testing statewide, but he couldn’t give any details when asked by reporters other than saying there would be a “massive amount of testing ability coming to Texas late April or early May.”
Testing did increase in North Texas this week, with Dallas County learning one Walgreens location will provide rapid tests, and the public testing sites at American Airlines Center and Ellis Davis Field House increasing testing to 1,000 per day.
"We are seeing very encouraging signs that more and more testing sites are on the way," the Department of State Health Services Commissioner, Dr. John Hellerstedt, said.
But Dr. Hellerstedt did not give a specific number on how many tests would be coming.
The governor said testing would come from the private sector, which is already carrying testing in the state.
Out of 169,000 tests performed, 161,000 have been performed in the private sector.
Some Democrats in the state criticized Abbott for the lack of information on testing, saying it would be critical to safely reopening the state’s economy.
“Throughout this pandemic, Governor Abbott’s response has been more tests are coming, they're coming and yet they never come,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio).
State Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, said Abbott failed to “provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing.”
As of Friday, there were 17,371 reported COVID-19 cases in Texas and 428 reported deaths.
Places like Dallas County, which reported its highest one-day total of new COVID-19 cases on Friday, still appear to likely follow Gov. Abbott's lead.
Judge Clay Jenkins released a statement saying, in part: "None of this means Safer At Home will end...it means we can open the first group of businesses supported by testing and the tracing of positive cases. "