Photo of a row of illuminated, colorful shops, restaurants, and businesses on Congress Avenue in Downtown Austin, Texas, USA.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Monday plans to allow Texas’ stay at home order, which closed businesses and required Texans to limit social contact to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, to expire on Thursday.

Governor Abbot also announced a new order allowing retailers, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls to reopen Friday at 25 percent capacity.

“It’s hard to get rid of this virus because it’s so contagious,” Abbott said during a press conference televised online Monday. “We’re not going to just open up and hope for the best.”

Texas has put measures in place for containing the virus and keeping Texans safe, Abbott said.

Capacity for businesses will increase to 50 percent on May 18th if Texas does not see a spike in COVID-19 cases, Abbott said.

For now, barbershops, hair and nail salons, gyms, and bars will remain closed, Abbott said.

In addition, there is no statewide mandate for people to wear masks even though some of the state’s largest cities and counties have enacted such ordinances. Gov. Abbott said his order supersedes all local orders and no one will be fined for not wearing a mask, he said.

Re-opening Texas businesses must occur in phases, Abbott said.

“We don’t want to reopen only to close down again,” he said.

The most important element of Phase 1 is protecting Texas’ most vulnerable population, which is people over 65, Abbott said. People 65 and over account for 20 percent of the positive COVID-19 tests in Texas. However, 76 percent of the deaths that have occurred were to people 65 and over.

“The bottom line is this – the more we do to protect our vulnerable population, the safer we can open business in Texas,” Abbott said.

Texas has 25,297 cases of people testing positive for COVID-19 and 663 deaths and 11,170 people have recovered from the disease, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Travis County has 1,412 cases of COVID-19 and 39 deaths and 344 people have recovered, according to the City of Austin. Bexar County has 1,254 cases of COVID-19 and 43 deaths, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

The new order allows businesses to reopen, but it does not require them to do so, Abbott said. If a business owner feels unsafe and does not want to reopen, there is no requirement to reopen, he said.

In addition to business, Texas’ museums and libraries can reopen under the 25 percent capacity rule starting Friday, Abbott said. This is permission to reopen and not a requirement, he said.

“A lot of business is done by sole proprietors – they can safely return to work now,” he said.

In addition, churches and places of worship can expand their capacity even more as long as they adhere to safe distancing practices, Abbott said.

Outdoor sports are also allowed but they are limited to four participants playing together and require certain social distancing practices, Abbott said. That allows for activities like golf and tennis, he said.

In addition, doctors, nurses, dentists, and all licensed healthcare workers can return to work, Abbott said.

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, Texas has allowed farmers and ranches, grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, gas stations, construction workers, real estate offices, and other essential businesses to operate. They have put social distancing requirements and hygiene practices into place that have kept those workplaces safe, Abbott said. Texas is looking at their practices as a guideline for reopening even more businesses safely, he said.

Even in low population counties, COVID-19 can spread very rapidly, Abbott said. But he is allowing Texas counties with five or fewer cases of COVID-19 to increase their business capacity to operate to 50 percent on Friday.

As far as barbershops, hair and nail salons, bars and gyms reopening, Texas is working with members of the business sector to open as soon as possible hopefully by mid-May, he said.  

Texas is also working to expand access to childcare services so Texans can return to work, Abbott said.

In addition, Texas is developing a contact tracing application that will be deployed statewide, Abbott said. It will employ a team of 4,000 contact tracers that will trace each new case of COVID-19 and inform others that person may have come into contact with to get tested. That will help to “box in the expansion of COVID-19,” Abbott said. That effort will be bolstered by an increase in testing with the goal of conducting 25,000 tests per day, he said.

To reopen the Texas economy, Texans must commit to continuing to practice safe distancing, Abbott said. And the state must rely on doctors and data to inform its actions, he said. Texas must also focus on protecting the most vulnerable to COVID-19, he said

Lastly, entrepreneurs drive the Texas economy and they must be unleashed to restore and revive the economy, Abbott said.

“We are Texans, we got this,” he said.

The Governor’s Strike Force to Reopen Texas report can be found here.