Abbott closes schools through May 4, says Texans should stay home

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday ordered schools to remain closed until at least May 4 and said Texans should stay at home, with exceptions, through April 30.

The executive order signed by Abbott directs all Texans to minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. The order renews and amends a previous order enforcing federal social distancing guidelines for COVID-19.

Exceptions to essential activities and services are based on the Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, and include trips to health care offices, grocery stores, banking and financial institutions, utilities, child care for essential service employees, and government services.

“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,” Abbott said. “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.”

According to state’s office of Emergency Management, essential services include:

  • Chemical
  • Commercial facilities
  • Communications and information technology
  • Critical manufacturing
  • Defense industrial base
  • Emergency Management
  • Energy
  • Financial services
  • Food and agriculture
  • Hazardous materials
  • Health care/public health
  • Hygiene products and services
  • Law enforcement, public safety and other first responders
  • Other community- or government-based operations and essential functions
  • Other services as approved by the Texas Division of Water and wastewater
  • Public works and infrastructure support services
  • Religious services conducted in churches, congregations and houses of worship
  • Residential/shelter facilities and services
  • Transportation and logistics.

Religious services will be allowed to continue remotely, and in some cases, limited, drive-thru services can be implemented.

Outdoor activities like exercise, jogging, cycling, hunting or fishing are allowed, so long as people limit their contact with others outside of their household.

The order continues a previous directive, which banned restaurant dining, bars, gyms and massage establishments, and extended it to include tattoo parlors, piercing studios and cosmetology salons.

The order is not a “stay-at-home” order, Abbott clarified, because Texans are allowed to leave home.

As of Tuesday, Abbott said 3,266 Texans have tested positive for COVID-19, with 122 counties having reported at least one case. Less than 10 percent of those tested for the virus have reported positive. Forty-one people have died from the virus.

To date, 32 states have implemented shelter in place orders.

Because Texas has yet to do so, the state’s largest association of hospitals urged the governor to put in place a statewide shelter in place order. Texas Hospital Association President Ted Shaw and Texas Nurses Association CEO Cindy Zolnierek sent a letter to the governor.

“The time has come for Texas to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. We urge you to implement this strict measure to prevent widespread illness in Texas,” it reads.

Rob Henneke, general counsel and director of the Center for the American Future at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, argues that local shelter in place orders, including Austin’s, are toothless.

“These shelter-in-place orders miss the mark and are fundamentally flawed,” he said. “Specifically, these orders fail to credibly match the stated urgency of the current health epidemic with the government commands in these orders that limit our civil liberties and have already forced thousands to lose their jobs.”

This article was first published by The Center Square.

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