Texas Gov. Abbott stops short of statewide stay-at-home order, closes schools until May 4

Tribune Content Agency

AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott took action Tuesday that will allow only essential services to remain open across Texas, a move that mirrors what many local governments already have done to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

In addition, the Republican ordered schools closed until May 4 — an order that could be extended.

Abbott refused to call his executive order a stay-at-home order, saying Texans are still allowed to exercise outside and run necessary errands. But residents must adhere to social distancing statewide through April 30, he said.

“This is not a stay-at-home strategy,” Abbott said. “This is a standard that is based on essential services and essential activities.”

The action came amid growing calls from hospitals to limit Texans’ activity statewide, as cases of COVID-19 continue to climb and frontline supplies dwindle. As of Tuesday, more than 500 people had tested positive for the virus and 40 people had died.

Abbott’s list of essential services mirrors federal guidance, but could override local orders that had gone further in limiting which types of businesses can stay open. For example, Abbott’s order permits religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship to continue. Several counties, including Dallas, had allowed such services to be provided only by video and teleconference.

The order is an extension of the one he issued earlier to avoid eating or drinking at bars, restaurants, and food courts, and visiting gyms or massage establishments. It expands the order to include tattoo studios, piercing studios, and cosmetology salons.

He said the social distancing strategy through April 30 mirrors the ones issued by President Donald Trump on Sunday.

Abbott said that local ordinances that are inconsistent with the order can be overruled, but said that cities and counties may impose stricter standards.

“I will always remain flexible,” he said about the appropriate standard for Texas. Those decisions will be based on state and federal health experts.

Criticism that the order didn’t go far enough was swift.

“This is about saving thousands of lives. For this to work, state lawmakers need to give Texans direction to stay at home – there should be no question about what we need to do to keep each other safe,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. “Gov. Abbott’s lack of clarity on a statewide stay-at-home order is irresponsible. The public needs clear directions during this global pandemic.”

Texas is the largest without an official statewide stay-at-home order. Earlier in the day, the Texas Medical Association urged Abbott to order statewide shelter in place.

The Texas Hospital Association made its case more than a week after Dallas area health care executives pressed Abbott to order residents to shelter in place. The Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council on March 21 warned a surge of patients with COVID-19 could overwhelm hospitals by late April.

Abbott’s executive order that be enforced by any law enforcement officer in the state. Those caught violating the order can be subject not only to fines or jail but to a quarantine order.

Texans are directed minimize non-essential gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household. It allows exceptions for essential activities and services based on the Department of Homeland Security’s guidelines on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce. Those include health care, grocery stores, banking and financial services, utilities, child care for essential service employees and government services.


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