Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect zoos will reopen on May 29, youth sports will be allowed to start May 31 and youth clubs can start immediately.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Texas has entered Phase 2 of Gov. Greg Abbott’s expansion and reopening of businesses across the state.
In a news conference at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon, Abbott announced that more Texas businesses will be allowed to either reopen or open at larger capacity.
Businesses that will be able to reopen immediately include child care facilities, massage parlors, and youth clubs like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
On Friday, May 22, several other businesses will be able to open at 25% capacity, including bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls, and aquariums. On May 29, zoos will reopen, also at 25% capacity. Restaurants will be able to expand to 50% capacity.
On May 31, youth sports and professional sports can resume in Texas. Professional sports will not be able to have fans. Youth sports can have one parent watch, but they must follow social distancing rules. More specifically, youth sports can start practice on May 31 and games on June 15.
Guidelines for reopening bars
For bars, the state has established the following guidelines:
- People should remain seated at tables when inside
- No tables of more than six people
- Dancing is “discouraged”
- Hand sanitizer stations should be at entryways
- There should be six feet of distance between parties
Gov. Abbott says these rules will be enforced by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. If local officials receive a complaints about bars in compliance, the TABC will investigate. The Commission has the power to suspend a bar’s liquor license for 30 days on the first offense and 60 days for the second.
“Customers are going to go where they feel safe and a brewery or bar that is packing people and not paying attention I don’t think is going to be all that successfully and will probably be called out for it, as they should,” said Jeffrey Stuffings, the co-owner of the Jester King Brewery and Kitchen.
Stuffings has already begun making plans to care for customers. He will request reservations for parties, something he never did in the past. At different points in the day, the entire 50+ acres will be shut down for a deep sanitation.
Although the Jester King can comfortably fit around 600 people, he will be limiting his occupancy to around 50 to begin.
“There is going to be quite a bit of distance between tables,” Stuffings said.
Abbott: ‘No indication’ another shutdown will be needed
During the news conference, Abbott said that since Texas entered Phase 1 of reopenings, the state has not seen any indication that the state would need to shut down again.
“What we announced today for two regions of Texas is a temporary pause for one week of when they were able to reopen. And so, what our primary goal will be is not to go to a point of retrenchment, but just slow the opening,” Abbott explained.
He said the state is prepared to handle the spikes in cases in certain areas of the state, including the panhandle.
“We’ve seen spikes happen before. We’ve seen the containment of spikes take place. And so we know how to do this. So as we move forward, we will be prepared to deal with spikes and expect a similar response in the future to the success that we’ve seen in the past,” Abbott said.
Despite the expanded reopenings, Gov. Abbott stressed that Texans keep utilizing safe distancing and hygiene practices, including wearing face masks, washing hands and sanitizing areas.
“It is a fact that these safe practices save lives,” said Abbott.
“Today, tomorrow and every day going forward is one day closer to medical discoveries that will treat and protect people from getting COVID-19,” said Abbott. “Until that day, our focus is to keep you safe while also restoring your ability to get back to work. To open businesses to pay your bills, to put food on your table… a way to coexist with COVID-19.”
What this means for child care and summer camps
The new executive order allows childcare facilities to resume caring for all children. For the last two months or so, providers could only care for children whose parents work at essential businesses.
And come May 31, summer camps can open too.
Joan Altobelli, Vice President of Licensed Childcare at Extend-A-Care YMCA said this year’s YMCA Summer Day Camp is going to look a lot different, compared to the previous ones.
“It’s going to be only those camps that we feel we can do safely with all of the precautionary techniques in place,” she said.
Altobelli explained, the YMCA will review how many sites it can open, how many kids it can accept, based on capacity limitations and what kind of activities will be safe. That means a program that normally serves 3,000 children will be significantly smaller.
She said they’ll accept enrollment on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“We have a timestamp on each application, so we all know who registered timely and can fit in, and then others will need possibly to make other arrangements if we can’t, um, serve them,” Altobelli said.
She told KXAN the YMCA recently did a survey to see how many parents were going to send their children to summer camps this year. Fourteen percent said highly unlikely. Thirty-five percent said yes, and about half were still waiting for more information on the virus.
The state has issued a checklist for summer camps.
Altobelli said the YMCA’s staff those requirements are in line with what they’ve been doing since March.
She explained, “There’s a questionnaire where the parents have to tell us if they’ve had recently any symptoms or fever, if they’ve been around anyone with symptoms or fever. They then get their temperature taken by our staff, and the staff wears a mask and the child wears a mask inside if they don’t have a fever.”
According to Altobelli, temperatures are taken every four hours as well.
For childcare centers getting ready to welcome back more of its students, Stephanie Retherford at the Learning Experience said, “I feel like we’ve been asking and asking like, we’ve opened up these businesses and we can’t take these kids and we felt a little bit forgotten, and we are so grateful that the announcement was made today and that we now have our plan of action.”
The Regional Vice President said many childcare centers will need this week to bring back furloughed employees.
“We’re also going to be making preparation to make sure we have enough touchless thermometers and that we have enough gloves and paper towels and everything on hand to make sure that we continue to be the safest possible care,” Retherford said.
She also said the safety checklist is something they got used to doing over the last two months or so.
“So we got used to them and we’ve been able to handle them. And actually I would say it’s been a very positive addition to our programs,” Retherford said. “So I think we’re really at ease with the way that this has gone and we agree that they should continue.”
Monitoring the outbreak
The state’s entry into Phase 2, according to Abbott, is the result of several metrics, including the positivity rate.
According to a chart shown during the news conference, Abbott explained that as of April 17, the seven-day average of positive test results was 13.86%. On May 17, the positivity rate was 4.97% — a large dip.
You can view the positivity rate chart below:
In a press call after Abbott’s announcement, Texas Democratic leaders said his analysis of the data is misleading.
‘Today it’s clear he is simply cherry picking the data,” State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, and chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “The governor glosses over the fact that the number of new cases reported has grown in the last two weeks. He glosses over the fact that the number of deaths reported tragically has increased in the last two weeks.”
Democrats have criticized the state’s testing ability, which the Republican governor said has grown exponentially.
“In just the first half of May, we more than doubled the number of tests that were given in all of March and April combined,” Abbott said.
Additional factors in expanded reopenings, according to the governor, are Texas’ growing supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE. Abbott said that the state currently distributes over 1 million face masks per day.
Currently, Texas is performing about 25,000 tests per day, the governor said.
The reopening rules do not apply to all counties just yet, Abbott said. Because the Amarillo region is considered a hot spot for coronavirus due to outbreaks at meat-packing plants and the El Paso area is not equipped to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients at its hospitals, far West Texas and the Panhandle will not move into Phase Two until May 29. The counties that are not expanding just yet are Randall, Potter, Moore, Deaf Smith and El Paso, Abbott said.
Under the governor’s plan, employers and employees should implement screening measures as more Texans return to work.
As outlined in Abbott’s updated guidance, gyms reopened Monday, with certain conditions explained on the Governor’s “Open Texas” website, starting at 25% occupancy. Those guidelines include proper social distancing and sanitizing. Customers should wear gloves while using equipment. Locker rooms and showers will not yet be allowed for reopening Monday. Manufacturers that closed under Abbott’s previous orders will be allowed to reopen Monday as well, at 25% capacity and using staggered staffing to limit interaction. State parks are also beginning to honor reservations.
Abbott has stated multiple times this month his team was working with bar owners and health experts to identify safe ways to allow for bars to reopen. Some bars owners participated in soft reopenings over the weekend to prepare for the green light from the state.
Gov. Abbott faces pressure on two fronts. Some Texans want him to open more businesses faster. Last week, tattoo artists and bar owners held rallies outside the Capitol calling on Abbott to let their businesses reopen. On the same day, a different group demonstrated outside the Governor’s Mansion, laying body bags near the front gate. Their message was that opening too soon could lead to more COVID-19 deaths in Texas.
“The governor is in a tough situation,” explained James Dickey, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. “There are some people who won’t be happy until there’s an unlimited opening of everything with no limit, and there are other people who will be unhappy if anything every opens up.”
A poll by Nexstar Media and Emerson College showed many Texans are not comfortable returning to normal life as businesses reopen. Even with distancing precautions in place, 68% of Texans polled said they would not feel comfortable going to gyms yet. Nearly 60% said they would not feel comfortable going to restaurants.
“It obviously impacts the economy greatly,” said Emerson College Polling Director Spencer Kimball. “If you have 60% of people saying they’re no longer are comfortable going to a restaurant, just think about all of those jobs that aren’t going to be there when this epidemic is over.”
Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Abbott’s approval rating is 54%, according to a Nexstar/Emerson College poll.
“We are getting through this,” Abbott said during the Monday conference. “But now more than ever, we need to work together as one Texas. Be a good neighbor. Be a Texan.”
Watch the full news conference:
On April 27, Abbott announced Phase One of his plan, opening restaurants and retailers, which took effect May 1, with a potential to move to Phase Two “as early as May 18,” if Texans can “contain the spread of COVID-19 during that time period.
“We need to see two weeks of data to confirm, no flare up of COVID-19,” Abbott said April 27, encouraging Texans to keep up social distancing.
On May 5, four days into his Phase One plan, Abbott announced expanded rules for hair salons, nail salons, and updated guidance for school graduations.
Abbott said that day the moist important factors for him include means and averages, rather than individual day-to-day spikes. “We’re going to be testing a lot more people,” he explained, “a lot more people are going to test positive, there could very well be the need for more people needing hospitalization.”
“What matters is not how many people are hospitalized,” Abbott said. “What matters is what our hospitalization capacity is.”
As of May 17, Texas had a total of 1,512 people hospitalized. Data from the Texas Department of State Health Services indicated 17,390 hospital beds were available, with 1,832 ICU beds and 5,797 ventilators.
The 7-day average positive test rate is 4.66%. According to an analysis of the state data, 57.70% of all cases have recovered, 39.51% are active and 2.80% have died.