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Texas Prepares to Reopen May 1st, Even as Coronavirus Continues to Spread

Governor Gregg Abbot has given Texas businesses the green light to reopen, despite rising coronavirus infections and deaths across the Lone Star State and the very real threat of a resurgence.

Texas to Begin 3-Phase Reopening on May 1st

On Monday, Abbott announced he would allow a Texas-wide stay-at-home order that’s been in effect since March to expire on Thursday, April 30th.  Non-essential businesses – including restaurants, retail stores, malls, movie theaters, libraries and museums – will be permitted to reopen on Friday, May 1st, but must limit capacity to 25% as the state works to monitor the spread of COVID-19.

Counties that don’t see a resurgence of coronavirus could be able to increase capacity to 50% by May 18th. However, those with fewer than five confirmed infections will be permitted to operate at 50% capacity as early as this Friday.

“Now it’s time to set a new course, a course that responsibly opens up business in Texas,” Abbott said on Monday. “Just as we united as one state to slow COVID-19, we must also come together to begin rebuilding the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Texans.”

Texas Governor Facing Increasing Pressure to Reopen

More than 26,170 coronavirus infections had been confirmed in Texas as of this morning, including 690 fatalities.  While the state’s stay-at-home order and social distancing measures have slowed transmission, both the case and death counts continue to rise, with confirmed infections doubling roughly every 14 days in Texas. A handful of counties – Brown, Lamar, Potter and Washington – are seeing cases double about every seven.

Nevertheless, the Governor has faced increasing pressure to reopen, thanks to a deepening economic downturn – especially in the state’s vital oil and natural gas sector — that has left thousands of Texans unemployed and hundreds of businesses on the verge of bankruptcy.

Much of that pressure has come from Abbott’s fellow Republicans, including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who suggested senior citizens should be willing to sacrifice their lives “in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren.”  President Trump’s recent calls to “liberate” certain states haven’t helped, as they’ve seemingly inspired right-wing protesters to take to the streets of Austin and other Texas cities – with many flouting social distancing guidelines — to demand an immediate reopening, regardless of the consequences.

“I think the Constitution gives us a right to meet like this,” one Austin demonstrator recently told CBS News. “The Constitution gives us a right to life and liberty and I have a right to work.”

Reopening Texas Early Risks a Coronavirus Resurgence

Those protests and other calls to resume business as usual seem to have had their intended effect, at least in Texas. But there’s also growing concern that even with new precautions in place, reopening non-essential businesses at this juncture will undo much of the progress the state has made in its fight against coronavirus.

“If we open up now, we’ll see a big resurgence,” Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccine and infectious disease expert with Baylor University, recently told KHOU-11. “We need to buy ourselves a little time before we really start opening up.”

One of the most influential models – the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Mode, or IHME – had initially predicted more than 6,000 coronavirus deaths in Texas by early August. With the majority of the state’s residents complying with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the model was able to revise its prediction downward only last week, estimating that Texas would see 957 fatalities through August 4th.

That scenario assumed the current measures would stay in place through May, indicating Texas would finally be able to switch from a mitigation to containment strategy by June 1st. But with Abbott preparing to move forward, the IMHE has again revised its model and is now predicting 1,687 deaths by August 4th – nearly double the previous estimate.

This latest prediction suggests the Governor’s plans are being driven by economic and political concerns, rather than scientific data.

“The virus is not tuning into press conferences,” Hotez noted. “We still have transmission going on. We still have patients going to hospitals. … We’ll see how transmission goes in the coming weeks and months.”

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