Texas Governor Issues Partial Shelter-In-Place Order; Allows For Religious Services

Though it contains many of the same “essential services” and activities exemptions that local governments and other states have issued previously, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gave an order this afternoon that for weeks he has avoided.

During a press conference, Abbott stopped short of calling it a shelter-in-place order, and also not preferring the nomenclature of a Stay At Home/Stay Safe order, as his order allows Texans to travel for essential activities including take-out from restaurants, grocery runs, medical visits, and a list of other functions. The order goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, April 2.

“As the president has made clear, we are not quite done with our response … we’ve come too far to falter now,” Abbott said.

The Governor concurred with the Trump Administration’s deadline of April 30 on various guidelines, and closed public schools through May 4.

Abbott praised churches for drive-up services and other alternatives that would fulfill the parameters of the order, in force through April 30.

According to the order:

“Essential services” shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).

The Texas Department of State Health Services would have authority to issue quarantine orders for those who continually defy the guidelines under a previous order by the department’s commissioner John Hellerstedt, Abbott noted.

By the numbers: 49,922 Texans have been tested, 3,266 of the test results were positive. There have been 41 deaths associated with COVID-19. Cases have been reported in 122 counties. No data was given on how many recoveries there have been.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick pointed out that out of the 164,719 cases worldwide, Texas is below the average in cases and that the state is on the right track.

From the hip: While this is not what the Governor originally had in mind, that so many cities and counties have taken this step, some uniformity became a practical step. Navigating the many local ordinances can be challenging and confusing, especially for residents who live and work between two counties or cities.

This executive order adds religious services to the list of essential activities, provided that guidelines are followed (six feet between persons, etc.). According to the order:

If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It also avoids the problem of slamming business owners and residents with sudden changes, as the order gives Texans a day to adjust. This is particularly helpful for law enforcement officers.

Having a central list of approved activities via TDEM will alleviate some of the chaos Texans have encountered with vaguely worded ordinances and orders that seem to favor liquor stores but close churches outright, or allow for pool cleaners but not home construction workers.

Below is the press release from the Governor’s office. As a courtesy, we are reprinting the entirety of the release as the Governor’s website could be having bandwidth issues and is taking time to load:

Governor Greg Abbott today issued an Executive Order implementing Essential Services and Activities Protocols for the entire state of Texas. The protocols direct all Texans to minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. The Governor’s Executive Order renews and amends his previous order enforcing federal social distancing guidelines for COVID-19, including closing schools and instructing Texans to avoid eating or drinking at bars and restaurants. The protocols allow exceptions for essential activities and services based on the Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. Examples of these essential services include healthcare, grocery stores, banking and financial services, utilities, child care for essential service employees, and government services.

Today’s Executive Order follows the decision by President Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enhance social distancing guidelines and extend the deadline for these guidelines to April 30th.

Governor Abbott was joined for the announcement by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Commissioner John Hellerstedt, MD, Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd, and Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

“Social distancing is our best tool in the fight against COVID-19, and the actions we have taken thus far have proven to be effective in limiting the spread of this virus,” said Governor Abbott. “Now it is time to redouble our efforts to reduce further exposure as much as possible and flatten the curve. As with all the actions the state is taking, the Essential Services and Activities Protocols is informed by the expertise and guidance of the CDC as well as state and local health officials. I urge my fellow Texans to heed these heightened social distancing directives to protect their health and the health of those around them. By following these guidelines, we will limit the spread of COVID-19 and overcome this challenge together.”

The Executive Order renews and expands the Governor’s previous directive to minimize social gatherings and minimize contact with people who are not in the same household. It also renews the Governor’s directive to avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, and visiting gyms or massage establishments, and it expands the order to include tattoo studios, piercing studios, and cosmetology salons.

In accordance with federal guidelines, people are still prohibited from visiting nursing home, state supported living centers, assisted living facilities, or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance. Additionally, schools will remain temporarily closed to in-person classroom attendance through May 4, 2020.

This Executive Order does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. The order also includes exemption for religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship. All critical infrastructure will remain operational, and government entities and businesses will continue providing essential services.

TDEM will maintain an online list of essential services specified in the Governor’s Executive Order at www.tdem.texas.gov/essentialservices/. Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of TDEM.

These orders will be effective on a statewide basis starting at 12:01 AM on April 2, 2020 and will end on April 30, 2020, subject to extension thereafter based on the status of COVID-19 in Texas and the recommendations of the CDC.

Executive order: EO-GA-14_Statewide_Essential_Service_and_Activity_COVID-19

This is a developing story.

Updated: 3:46 p.m.



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