Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday announced his next wave of reopenings designed to restart the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic, saying child care facilities can reopen immediately, bars can open Friday with limited capacity and sporting events can return without fans at the end of the month.
Abbott also said he would permit restaurants to operate at 50% capacity starting Friday, up from 25% that’s allowed now.
At the same time, Abbott exempted two hotspot regions — Amarillo and El Paso — from his latest decisions, saying they would need to wait a week — until May 29 — while the state's surge response teams work to contain outbreaks in each area.
Abbott’s news conference came 18 days after he started a phased reopening of the state, starting with letting restaurants, stores, movie theaters and malls open up at 25% capacity. He then allowed barbershops and salons to reopen May 8 under certain restrictions. Monday was the first day gyms were allowed to open up, also under restrictions.
In addition to bars, Abbott is letting a host of other establishments reopen Friday, including bowling alleys, bingo halls, skating rinks, rodeos, zoos and aquariums. In the lead-up to Monday, however, the fate of bars had drawn the most attention, especially after Abbott began allowing restaurants to reopen May 1. All the businesses opening Friday will only be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.
For bars that reopen Friday, the state is recommending that customers remain seated at tables of no more than six people, among other restrictions. Dancing is discouraged.
Abbott’s news conference Monday came a day after the total coronavirus cases in Texas increased to at least 47,784, including 1,336 deaths, according to the latest data from the state Department of Health Services. Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 222 are reporting cases.
The number of cases — and deaths — keeps rising in Texas, though the testing tally has also gone up, reaching 693,276 as of Sunday. Abbott, meanwhile, continues to highlight the relatively stable number of hospitalizations and declining infection rate.
While testing has ramped up, it is still failing to regularly reach Abbott’s own goal of 30,000 tests a day. Over the last week, the state averaged 25,614 tests per day, which Abbott cited at his news conference as he argued the numbers that he is watching most closely have been moving in the right direction.
However, in recent days, it was revealed that the state is including an unknown quantity of antibody tests in its testing total, casting uncertainty over the reliability of that data for the time being. Abbott seemed to dispute that Monday, saying the state is "not commingling" the different types of tests and the antibody testing numbers "will be provided separately."
Amarillo has been a hotspot due to outbreaks at its meatpacking plants, and earlier this month, the state dispatched one of its Surge Response Teams to the city to try to get things under control. Of the 1,801 new cases that Texas reported Saturday, over 700 were linked to the Amarillo meatpacking plants, according to Abbott’s office.
In El Paso, the situation has deteriorated enough that the county judge, Ricardo Samaniego, and other local officials asked Abbott last week to exempt the county from the reopening process. Abbott said Monday that El Paso's hospital capacity is "too close for comfort at this particular time."
The one-week delay "will give those communities and our surge team response the time needed to slow the spread and maintain hospital capacity," Abbott said. "It will ensure those communities safely move into phase 2."
The counties subject to the delay are El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore and Deaf Smith. The latter four are all in the Amarillo region.