Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sounded like he'd been listening to medical experts Friday afternoon as he announced his initial plans for broadening the state's economy.
As the state tries to get back to the old normal, the new normal will include widely expanded COVID-19 testing and tracing, as well as a commitment to physical distancing and other measures intended to slow the spread of the virus. A "strike force" will work to determine if and when coronavirus restrictions can be lifted based on medical advice and data, according to the governor.
"They will work together to create a medical architecture to comprehensively test for and trace COVID-19," Abbott said.
The first steps the state will take as it attempts to dig out from its coronavirus pandemic shutdown will allow greater access to retail shopping, a wider range of medical procedures to be performed and the reopening of Texas State Parks for Texans seeking to get out of their homes.
Texas' schools will be closed for the remainder of the spring semester, Abbott said. In a statement issued shortly after the announcement, Texas Education Agency officials praised the move, saying it was a difficult decision but "the only one that makes sense for Texas at this time.
"TEA fully supports the governor's actions and continues to work closely with districts across the state to ensure students are getting what they need: meals, dedicated efforts to keep kids feeling safe and connected during these times, and support so students can continue to learn and grow academically."
Retailers across the state will be allowed to reopen in a week. They will be allowed to serve shoppers making curbside or takeout pickups only. No in-store shopping will be permitted at previously non-essential retailers.
Visitors to Texas' parks will be limited to gathering in groups of fewer than five.
Late last month, Abbott issued a ban on nonessential medical procedures. He has now loosened that ban to allow hospitals to perform those procedures and surgeries as long as they can maintain appropriate capacity — determined by the state to be 25% of their total beds — to deal with potential coronavirus patients.
The governor said it is still up to the courts to determine whether abortion is legal in Texas under the order.
As businesses reopen, they should make sure to protect the health and safety of their employees by whatever means they can when they are allowed to reopen next Friday.
"Employees should not be coerced into going back to work," Abbott said. "We need to make sure that our employees feel safe and that employers (reopening to provide retail to-go) are employing the very best strategies to avoid any possible transmission of COVID-19."
Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt commended Texas residents for the success they've had in battling the virus so far. The state's hospital system was holding strong, he said.
"COVID-19 did not explode," Hellerstedt said.
With portions of the state returning to work, the chances for novel coronavirus outbreaks will increase. The state must be ready for when those outbreaks occur, Abbott said.
"There is the possibility of a resurgence of COVID-19," Abbott said. "That's one of the reasons that we will utilize enhanced testing strategies, enhanced containment strategies to make sure that when it does arise we will be able to contain it."
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