AUSTIN (Nexstar) — In a Tuesday press conference from the Texas Capitol, Governor Greg Abbott announced several developments on the state’s response to the coronavirus.
The Governor gave updated totals of COVID-19 cases across the state, reporting that there are now 33,369 positive cases in Texas and have been 906 deaths related to the disease. Cases considered recovered now number 16,791. He reported that Texas ranks third nationwide in number of recoveries and that recoveries now outnumber the amount of active cases.
There are now 15,672 active cases and there are 1,888 hospitalizations. This is the highest number of hospitalizations yet.
Given these numbers, Abbott said that the percentage of positive cases is decreasing as testing improves across the state. According to the Governor, Texas tested 19,000 people just on Tuesday.
Additionally, Abbott said that 95% of Texans tested in recent days have come back as negative.
Next, Abbott announced several new business developments in the state’s plan to reopen businesses and fine tuning to his reopening of certain businesses last week.
These updates include:
- Barber shops and hair, nail and other types of salons will be able to reopen on Friday, May 8 — with certain conditions. Safety guidelines will include that services will be by one-on-one appointment only. Customers will be able to wait inside a space if six feet of distance is able to be maintained. Face masks will be strongly encouraged
- Gyms will be able to reopen on May 18, again with certain conditions. Gyms will only be able to operate at 25% capacity. Distancing in workout areas must adhere to sanitizing and social distancing measures. Customers should wear gloves when using equipment. Showers and locker rooms must remain closed
- Non-essential manufacturers can reopen at 25% capacity on May 18. Facilities must use staggered staffing to ensure people aren’t all moving through doorways at the same time
Additional guidance from the Governor’s office is published on the state’s “Open Texas” website.
There is currently no date for the reopening of bars.
Abbott also announced some changes that relate to weddings, which will now be given the same treatment as church services in regard to attendance. Seating arrangements will be the same as restaurants — no more than six people at a table with no tables closer than six feet to each other. Occupancy for receptions can only be 25%.
Not all professionals feel the same way about this announcement.
Felicia Finch, who has been styling hair for more than 15 years, said she’s been waiting on this announcement for two months. She’s lost approximately $13,000 worth of business since the pandemic forced her to close her personal studio.
“This is kind of a recession-proof career and I have never been shut down, ever,” Finch said. “To take that way because of something I couldn’t control was tough.”
Finch is already sanitizing and making plans. She’ll offer the first time slot of the day to her elderly clients so they’ll have the cleanest available space. She said she will wear a mask and ask her clients to, as well.
“It will be difficult with masks on to work around, but we’ll make it work! I don’t want to be in your face as much as you want to be in mine,” Finch said.
Others are concerned for their own safety and that of their clients. Max Monaghan, a cosmetologist in Dallas, said social distancing may be impossible in smaller studios.
“So you’re telling me one client per stylist, but there are 15 people on the floor. So now you have 30 people in the salon. How are you going to control that type of environment? I don’t think it’s possible,” Monaghan said.
He won’t let his customers book and said he won’t return to work until more clear cut guidelines are released from the state.
“Am I allowed to offer drinks to my clients? Can I do hot towel facials? Can I do beard trims and shaves?” Monaghan said. “I’m not trying to advocate to close salons or to keep everyone out of the business. I’m just advocating for a little bit more information on how to operate in this new world.”
Businesses have the option to open up this Friday, but there is no requirement to do so. Check with your stylist or barber if you want to find out when you can come in and what they plan to do to follow the governor’s guidelines.
The Governor also said that with Texas reopening, the state is preparing for “flareups,” for which the state has surge response teams who will deal with these cases.
The Tuesday event was Abbott’s first briefing in more than a week.
At his last news conference, he announced the details of his first phase of reopening Texas restaurants and retailers, which allowed qualifying businesses to open at 25% capacity.
Abbott put part of his plan into motion near the end of April, with a “retail to-go” model that allowed curbside service for stores that were previously considered non-essential.
Abbott was joined by Texas Health and Human Services Acting Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, as well as his usual companions, Dr. John Hellerstedt of the Texas Department of State Health Services and Chief Nim Kidd of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
During the conference, Kidd gave updates to the state’s supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
The timeline of the next phase will depend on the spread of COVID-19 during the first phase. Phase II would allow businesses to bump capacity up to 50%.
Abbott’s “Open Texas” plan includes some details on the state’s new contact-tracing system and associated benchmark goals.
Abbott allowed his “stay-at-home” order to expire April 30, with a caveat.
“Now, more than ever, Texans need to practice social distancing,” he said.
While some business owners say he should open the state up entirely right away, the Governor has faced some push-back from others who say communities are not prepared for a spike in COVID-19 cases that could come.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re ready,” State Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said, referring to the El Paso region. “We’re still going to be very vigilant about staying at home.”
Abbott eliminated the mandatory 14-day quarantine for road travelers from Louisiana, but kept in place required self-quarantines for air travelers from California; Connecticut; New York; New Jersey; Washington State; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI, and Miami, FL.
He also loosened some restrictions on non-emergency surgeries.
“We applaud our fellow Texans for their sacrifice, for their discipline over the past month or two… for bending the curve. For being able to open our economy… Texas will once again be the top state in the United States for doing business.”
Austin Mayor: the governor should wait to reopen
Tuesday evening, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement:
“Relying on science and data means the Governor should be waiting the necessary three to four weeks to count increased infections and hospitalizations before layering on more risk. The more allowed physical interactions, the less likely the Governor will avoid scaling back to stop a deadly surge.”
According to Austin-Travis County health officials, while the curve has been flattened, “the continued decline in the spread of the virus requires the ongoing efforts of this community.”
Dr. Mark Escott, Austin’s Interim Health Authority, said thanks to people limiting contact, there’s plenty of hospital capacity. But clusters of cases do exist — especially around people who’ve been working at essential businesses.
“We are working to do some targeted testing at construction sites as well because we know it’s a hot spot right now,” he said.
At the press conference, Governor Abbott said the state is ready to respond to a potential second surge of cases.
“We are ready for that,” he said as he began to explain the role of surge response teams.
State officials said the response teams have been deployed 47 times already.
“They’ll do things like provide more PPE, more testing supplies, and then we’ll work to enhance healthcare capabilities in those areas,” Abbott explained.
He said the teams have gone to nursing homes, prisons and meat packing plants, but they’re ready to deal with “flare ups” of COVID-19 cases anywhere. “It could be a particular ZIP code. It could be an office space. It could be related to a school setting. It could be any type of setting,” the Governor said.
As more places reopen and more people interact with one another, “Bottom line is we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen of course. That’s always the big question,” said Dr. Diana Fite, President of the Texas Medical Association.
She said, “We do have plenty of beds and ventilators ready if there is some type of surge. Obviously, we don’t want there to be any surge, and we certainly couldn’t handle a huge surge.”
She said reopening slowly in phases, like the governor is currently implementing, is the right way to go. But there are still issues in the state with testing capacity and the supply of Personal Protective Equipment.
“Of course, there is more and more testing, but there’s not nearly enough available yet,” she said.
Founder and CEO of Remedy, Dr. Jeremy Gabrysch, agreed. He said while testing has increased, there still isn’t adequate access to on-site rapid testing.
“One advantage of point-of-care test is that rapid turnaround time,” he said. “It’s like when you get a flu test at your doctor. You can get the result right there and know if you have coronavirus or not.”
When it comes to PPE, Gabrysch said, “We’re not out of the woods yet in terms of getting a clear line of sight all of the equipment we need and a wide open supply chain. We’re certainly in a better position in terms of PPE than we were a month ago, but I would say it’s still an ongoing struggle to get all the supply we need.”
Fite said reopening, even in phases, isn’t a green light for all of us to return to life as normal.
She said, “No, and we’re afraid that people might not quite understand that. It may sound like well, we’re able to reopen, then it must be getting okay. No, it’s got to be with caution.”
Doctors said people should continue staying at least six feet from others, wearing masks in public and practicing good hygiene.