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Texas Ending Coronavirus Shutdown: What to Know About Governor Abbott’s Reopening Plan.

The state of Texas will soon embark on a bold and potentially risky public health experiment.

Less than one month after issuing a Texas-wide stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, Governor Gregg Abbott will allow most non-essential businesses across the state to reopen tomorrow. Abbott announced his plan to end the coronavirus shutdown on Monday, citing an expanded program of testing, a beefed-up stock of protective equipment, and the state’s high number of coronavirus recoveries as justification for one of the most extensive re-openings in the nation so far.

“We wanted to make sure we could open up as quickly as possible, but as safely as possible,” Abbott said. “These are decisions that are the result of the best possible input of medical professionals.”

But it won’t be business-as-usual in the Lone-Star-State, as Texans who venture out tomorrow will find a new normal marked by restrictions on capacity and a continuation of some social distancing guidelines.

What Businesses Will be Permitted to Reopen in Texas?

In the majority of Texas counties, retail businesses, restaurants, movie theaters and malls will be permitted to open their doors tomorrow, provided they limit capacity to 25%. According to the Houston Chronicle, Abbott maintains that essential retailers – including H.E.B. and Home Depot – have already proven this strategy can successfully limit transmission of COVID-19.

Businesses in smaller counties with five or fewer confirmed coronavirus infections will be able to open at 50% capacity.

Museums and libraries may open at the discretion of local authorities, so long as they avoid any “hands-on” activities. Golf, tennis, and other non-contact sports limited to four people may resume, while churches and other places of worship can expand their capacity if social distancing is maintained.

The second phase of Abbott’s reopening plan is tentatively scheduled to begin on May 18th.  At that time, bars, barber shops, and hair and nail salons may resume operations. All businesses will be able to operate at 50% capacity, provided the state has not seen a resurgence of new coronavirus infections.

Abbotts’ order does not require any business to reopen and leaves the final decision to each individual establishment.

What Does Abbott’s Order Say About Masks and Social Distancing?

While Texans won’t be required to wear masks when they’re out and about, it’s strongly recommended that they do so. It’s also recommended that people limit social gatherings and in-person contact with individuals outside their own household.

There will be no warnings or fines for anyone who disregards this advice.

What Happens to Local Coronavirus Orders?

Governor Abbot’s reopening order supersedes all  local coronavirus orders.  As of tomorrow, Harris County and other municipal governments will be barred from issuing fines, citations or otherwise enforcing previously announced stay-at-home orders, social distancing directives, and mask requirements.

How Will Texas Enforce Abbott’s Reopening Order?

It’s up to local governments and regulators to enforce Abbott’s reopening order. Failure to follow its directives can result in a fine of up to $1,000 and/or 180 days in jail.

Any business that violates the order could also lose its state-issued license to operate.

Is Texas Really Ready to Reopen?

Governor Abbott insists the decision to reopen Texas is based on expert medical opinions and sound scientific data, rather than pressure from President Trump, right-wing protesters, or deteriorating economic conditions across the state.

It is true that coronavirus transmissions in Texas have slowed significantly in recent weeks, and that both the hospitalization rate and death rate have flattened. But that success is largely the result of measures that are set to end tomorrow. And while Abbott has promised that a program of testing and contract tracing will quickly identify and contain emerging hot spots, the state had only managed to conduct 290,517 tests as of April 27th – less than 1% of the current population.

Texas is still seeing an average of 800 new coronavirus cases each day. As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the state, health experts are warning that a premature reopening will only cause the rate of new transmissions to accelerate once again.

“The problem so far (is that) they’ve been mostly oblivious that the whole thing is going to fall apart in a few weeks or months,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a world-renowned vaccine and infectious disease expert with the Baylor College of Medicine, told KHOU-11. “We are doing it ahead of when the models say we can do it safely, which says, ‘Wait until June.'”

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