Governor Greg Abbott told Texans on Tuesday to stay home for the next month unless they participate in essential services and activities, announcing a heightened statewide standard to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. . He also announced that schools would remain closed until at least May 4.
At a press conference at the Texas Capitol, Abbott declined to call his last executive order a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order, arguing that such labels leave a bad impression and that he wants Texans to know, for example, that they can still get groceries. But in an interview afterward, he said “it’s a fact” that the executive order nonetheless makes Texas aware of states that have issued orders with those tags.
“States that have ‘stay-at-home’ policies or even some that use ‘shelter-in-place’ are very close to ours, which is if you were to put a label on it, it would be “essential services and activities only,” Abbott said, drawing parallels between Texas and even New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. “If you are not engaged in an essential service or activity, you should be home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The state has defined a list of more than a dozen sectors providing essential services which are consistent with Abbott’s order, which is largely aligned with federal guidelines on the matter. These include healthcare, energy, food and essential manufacturing. The Texas list adds religious services, which are not included in the federal guidelines.
The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and lasts until April 30, aligning it with the new end date President Donald Trump announced Monday for social distancing guidelines.
The order replaces one Abbott issued on March 19 that limited social gatherings to 10 people, among others. The new order significantly lowers that standard, asking Texans to “minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not part of the same household.”
In other cases, the new order expands the guidelines of the previous one, including banning eating in bars and restaurants. The latest also extends the school’s closure until May 4, which was originally scheduled to end Friday at midnight with the expiration of the governor’s prior order.
By using terms like “minimize”, the new the language of the order stops short of explicitly prohibiting non-essential activities. But Abbott has made it clear that he expects all Texans to adhere to the guidelines or face criminal penalties — and that there’s only wiggle room in the language to accommodate “exceptions.” to the rule” potential.
“You never know what the exception would be, like say there’s an emergency where you have to go do something or whatever,” he said. “And you don’t want people to be likely to be in violation of a law for lack of clarity.”
At the press conference and in the interview, Abbott chafed at labels such as “shelter in place” and “stay at home,” suggesting they are misnomers. In the interview, Abbott said he asked his legal research team to look into the true meaning of “shelter in place,” and the team came back with advice from the American Red Cross who advises people to stay indoors in case of an emergency. Abbott said the guidance “has no superior, lateral or inferior relation to the concept” of orders that are labeled “shelter in place.”
In any case, for more than a week, Abbott has resisted calls for such a statewide order, deferring to local authorities. In recent days they have moved to put most of the population of Texas under such orders.
Hours before Abbott’s press conference, leaders of the Texas Hospital Association and Texas Nurses Association released a letter to the governor saying “the time has come” for a statewide stay-at-home order. . Last week, 65 of 67 Texas House Democrats called on Abbott to issue such an order.
Following Abbott’s announcement on Tuesday, State Rep. Chris Turner, chairman of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, released a statement saying the governor’s press conference “was confusing at times, but we believe it represents a step in the right direction”.
“By ordering all activities – except research or the provision of essential services – to cease or be conducted via telecommuting, Governor Abbott has essentially created a stay-at-home order across the country. state,” said Turner, of Grand Prairie. “It can serve as a good foundation for counties that didn’t have one in place, even if it’s less than what other counties have already.”
Other Democrats had a harsher reaction to Abbott’s press conference, with the state party saying his “mishandled response to the coronavirus outbreak has put Texans at risk.”
Turner and others have expressed concern over Abbott’s decision to include religious worship as an essential service, leaving open the possibility of large gatherings in churches. At the press conference, Abbott encouraged churches to hold their services remotely, but said if they were to meet in person, they would have to follow federal guidelines for social distancing.
“I don’t know of a church that would want their constituents, their parishioners, exposed to COVID-19, and I think there’s enough public information right now for them to be aware of the necessary practices. to make sure their members don’t get COVID-19,” Abbott said in the interview.
There has been controversy, particularly in the Houston area, over church closings in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The pastors are in court challenging a stay-at-home order that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced a week ago which limits churches to online services only.
To that end, Abbott’s latest executive order rescinds “any conflicting orders issued by local officials,” including those related to religious services. At the press conference, Abbott said local officials “always have the ability to impose standards that they consider to be higher” — as long as they don’t conflict with his latest executive order.
There are at least 3,266 cases of coronavirus in Texas, including 41 deaths, according to the most recent figures from the Texas Department of State Health Services. The cases are spread across 122 of the state’s 254 counties.
According to the latest figures, 42,992 tests have been carried out in Texas.
“We’ve come too far to falter now,” Abbott said at the press conference, where he was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and State House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. “We’ve made tremendous progress, but we haven’t reached our destination yet. … Together, we will persevere for another month.”
Disclosure: The Texas Hospital Association financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find the complete list here.