The state of Texas has taken another step toward reopening in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, by allowing restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, and malls to reopen, as of May 1.
During an April 27 press conference, Governor Greg Abbott said that these businesses could reopen, but only if they limit occupancy to 25 percent.
Gyms, bars, hair salons, and barbershops must still remain closed. He also reiterated the state's policy on wearing masks, saying it was recommended but not required. He also said that cities, including Austin, may not impose fines if residents do not wear masks.
Abbott said that if this reopening — which he called "Phase 1" — goes off without increasing the number of COVID-19 cases, then those businesses can open, and the others can expand their capacity, in mid-May.
"My executive order to stay at home is set to expire on April 30 and that executive stay-at-home order has done its job to slow the growth of COVID-19, so I will let it expire as scheduled and set a new course," Abbott said. "We want to responsibly reopen using safe standards for businesses and their employees, as well as their customers."
Since March 27, Texas has seen an additional 22,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
"The reason all businesses cannot open all at once, we've already seen the precautionary tales of what happens when things reopen," Abbott said. "There are reports that China is having a new outbreak, and Singapore is having a second outbreak bigger than its first. We're not just going to open up and hope for the best, but instead help businesses open while also containing the virus and keeping Texas safe."
Phase 2 would expand occupancy limits to 50 percent. Abbott said it could take place as early as May 18.
He said that businesses are allowed to reopen, but are not required to do so. "If a business doesn't feel safe or for any other reason doesn't want to open, there's no requirement," he said.
While museums and libraries can open under the same 25-percent capacity limit, any interactive or hands-on exhibits must remain closed.
Churches and places of worship, which already have the okay to reopen, can expand their capacity even more. "We do emphasize the importance of safe distancing to ensure church members remain protected," he said.
He said the rules would be different for smaller counties that have five or fewer cases of coronavirus.
"To protect rural counties and to protect those with little or no cases from being punished, a different standard can apply," he said. "If you have five or less cases, which is true for half of all counties in Texas, they can increase their capacity to 50 percent."
If those counties witness an outbreak, they would be required to revert back to Phase 1 standards, with limited capacity.