COVID-19 Texas News for Lobbyists

Governor Holds Press Conference On Further Opening Economy. On May 5th, Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to provide updates on the state’s COVID-19 response and share clarifications and modifications to his recent executive orders to reopen the state’s economy.  The governor shared data showing increasing numbers of tests being conducted in the state while the overall rate of positive results continues to decline. He also urged Texans to continue practicing work-from-home and social distancing measures. The major news was the May 8th opening of cosmetology businesses, hair salons, nail salons, and tanning salons, and the May 18th opening of gyms, exercise facilities, office buildings, and non-essential manufacturers.

These newly opened services are subject to recommended minimum standard health protocols outlined by DSHS. These protocols will be available on the Open Texas webpage. The governor also invited bar owners to communicate with his office about what sort of strategies could help bars reopen without spreading COVID-19.

First, the governor made several clarifications and modifications to his recent executive orders reopening the state:

  • The use of masks is strongly encouraged but is not required.
  • Funerals, memorials, burials, and weddings should all be treated like church services, with limited seating arrangements and social distancing encouraged. Wedding receptions should be conducted at 25% occupancy, with tables of 6 or fewer. The governor also strongly encourages at-risk populations to watch remotely.
  • Beaches, lakes, rivers (including rafting) should follow the same standards as parks, with 6 feet separation where possible and groups limited to fewer than 5 if not from the same household.
  • Restaurant capacity limitations do not apply to outdoor seating areas, but the same social-distancing rules still apply.

The governor also announced that beginning on May 8th, cosmetology, hair salons, nail salons, tanning salons will be allowed to open, subject to certain practices like a limit of one customer per stylist, the use of appointments or socially-distanced wait areas, and operating stations spaced based on maintaining 6 feet between stations. On May 18th, gyms, non-essential manufacturers, and office buildings will be allowed to open subject to the following guidelines:

Gyms & exercise facilities:

  • 25% capacity for indoor gym facilities; social distancing required outside
  • Showers and locker rooms must remain closed.
  • Equipment should be disinfected after each use and full-coverage gloves required for use.

Non-essential manufacturers:

  • Facilities will be limited to 25% occupancy.
  • Workforce hours should be staggered to reduce occupancy and congestion.
  • Facilities should use distancing or engineering controls like plexiglass between work stations.

Office buildings:

  • Gatherings limited to the greater of 5 people or 25% of workforce.
  • Work stations should be appropriately distanced.

Finally, the governor announced the formation of surge response teams to deal with flare-ups of coronavirus. These teams are led by TDEM and HHSC and include representatives from the the Texas Military Department, DSHS, the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force, and BCFS Health and Human Services. The teams will work in areas with elevated cases to provide testing and protection supplies, enhance healthcare capacity, and reinforce health and social distancing standards. The governor cited outbreaks in jails, senior centers, and meatpacking plants as places surge response teams would be working.

DSHS Commissioner John Hellderstedt credited Texans strong action following social distancing and sanitation guidelines for controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said that the TEA would soon publish guidance to allow graduation celebrations to occur subject to certain constraints. For example, the guidance could allow schools to hold graduation ceremonies for students in a one-at-a-time or drive-thru set-up. On the topic of schools, the governor also raised the possibility of an early start combined with an extended winter break to keep students from congregating during peak flu season and a potential resurgence of COVID-19.