AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott outlined Monday a slow reopening of one of the world’s largest economies amid the coronavirus pandemic, allowing restaurants, retailers, movie theaters and malls to start letting customers trickle into their establishments starting Friday.
The move comes as Texas and other states process a record-high surge in jobless claims and as food banks have seen demand spike. Conservatives in Texas and supporters of President Donald Trump have amplified calls to get the state and country back to work.
“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,” Abbott said.
The Republican Abbott’s plan allows those establishments to let in customers up to 25% of capacity as long as they follow social distancing guidelines. Those in counties that have reported fewer than five cases of the coronavirus will be able to serve customers at a 50% threshold unless officials see a spike in new cases.
Abbott also said he will let his monthlong stay-at-home order expire on April 30. Bars, barbershops, hair salons and gyms remain closed.
Abbott began easing some of restrictions last week, starting with reopening state parks, allowing “retail-to-go” and letting doctors to perform nonessential surgeries.
Abbott has been under some pressure for a quicker reopening but chose a cautious route intended to avoid a spike in new cases. His plan will likely be met with caution in the state’s largest cities, where officials have been more aggressive restrictions and expressed concern that Texas ranks near the bottom per capita in testing.
Abbott’s new order also means cities like Houston and Austin, which have required people wear to masks when in public, cannot punish any violators with penalties. However, Abbott urged people to continue wearing masks.
A key part of Abbott’s plan is a promise of boosting testing and tracking outbreaks, including building a team of 4,000 contact tracers by May 11. The new rules could be expanded to more businesses if the next two weeks do not show sharp increases in the number of people hospitalized or dying from COVID-19.
Americans remain overwhelmingly in favor of stay-at-home orders and other efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A majority of Americans also say it won’t be safe to lift social distancing guidelines anytime soon.
According to state health officials, Texas had more than 25,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, with 663 deaths and more than 11,100 deemed recovered. The number of infections is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.