Gov. Greg Abbott announced initial steps to reopen the Texas economy during the coronavirus pandemic, including loosening surgery restrictions at medical facilities, allowing all retail stores to provide product pickups, and reopen state parks int he next week.
What We Know:
- Abbott also named a “statewide strike force” devoted to getting the economy going again. Austin banker James Huffines will chair the task force, and veteran lobbyist Mike Toomey will lead its staff. The group will oversee what Abbott described as a phased reopening, starting Friday with additional announcements set for April 27 and sometime in May.
- Abbott also announced that all Texas schools will stay closed through the rest of the academic year. He previously shuttered them until May 4.
- Abbott made the announcements during a news conference at the Texas Capitol with a note of optimism.
- “Because of the efforts by everyone to slow the spread, we’re now beginning to see glimmers that the worst of COVID-19 may soon be behind us,” Abbott said. He also noted that the number of infections is “beginning to level off” and the death toll, while tragic, has “not come close to the early, dire predictions”.
- “We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus,” Abbott added.
- In recent days, Abbott has faced pressure from some in his own party to reopen the state’s economy, while Democrats have argued Texas is nowhere near ready to do so, citing the state’s low testing level. Abbott combated at the news conference that Texas was preparing to dramatically increase its testing capacity, but he did not provide details beyond suggesting a timeline of “late April or early May”.
- After the news conference, state Rep. Chris Turner, the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement saying Abbott has failed to “provide a clear plan for how Texas will increase testing”.
- According to Texas Tribune, Abbott said his task force will include fellow state leaders such as Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, as well as top medical experts like state health Commissioner John Hellerstedt and Mark McClellan, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The medical advisers will focus on developing a strategy to “comprehensively test and trace COVID-19 that will enable Texas to gradually and safely” begin returning to normal, Abbott said.
- The task force will also be rounded out by an advisory group of business leaders.
Abbott’s news conference came as the number of coronavirus cases in Texas climbed to at least 17,371, including 428 deaths, according to the latest numbers from the Texas Department of State Health Services. Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 192 are reporting cases.